Interview with Locale Sudan
Founded by best friends Qutouf Yahia, Aala Sharfi, and Safwa Mohammed, Locale is an art collective that celebrates and preservers Sudanese culture through facilitating creative collaborations. Locale was founded on the premise of supporting homegrown creativity as well as contributing to it. Their most recent project, Hunak, is a collection of visual and literary stories, that explores the history and social dynamics of Sudan through the themes of place and displacement. Hunak is testament to Locale’s ability to bring together various Sudanese artists to tell stories that authentically represent and preserve Sudan’s history. The publication comes in the format of a zine, full of flips and folds, with design elements that give a nod to the archival. Not only is it a visually stunning product but it also puts Sudanese creativity at the forefront of the culture.
Locale is now made up of the three co-founders, Qutouf, Aala, Safwa and Rund Al-Arabi, each of whom is an artist herself, and each handling different aspects of the work. They work on a number of projects at a time, including creating their self-published zines, running an online artist directory, as well as providing a platform for critique for Sudanese emerging artists. The collective do this from different parts of the world - from Abu Dhabi, Toronto, Khartoum, Jeddah and Dubai - which makes Locale particularly interesting when taking into account its collaborative mission.
To be entirely honest, at first, I didn’t know what to think of Locale - are they a publication? Are they a digital platform? I wasn’t so sure how they could be defined. It wasn’t until after I sat down with co-founder Qutouf Yahia in Dubai, that I finally understood that Locale wasn’t an art collective made to be understood: they began the project to challenge and support the current creative production coming out of Sudan by filling a gap they felt needed to be filled. And like many projects that are borne out of the “grassroots” their format becomes unique and sometimes difficult to “pin down”. It of course goes without saying that we are here for it and can’t wait to see more of what Locale does in the future. But for now, we share the below interview with the Sudanese collective who talk to us about their journey, the Sudanese arts scene and how the internet has influenced their practice.
How do you best describe Locale? (as both an art directory, community space, exhibition space etc.)?
We think the best way to describe what we are is to say that we’re art facilitators.
And how did the locale team come together? What inspired you to begin?
We are a group of friends with similar interests and varying talents and a singular passion for Sudan so it made sense for us to come together to create a space where like-minded people could find support and develop their own artistic and collaborative skills.
You’ve done so much in the Sudanese arts scene since you began in 2016. What is Locale’s objective and aspirations with regards to cultivating the arts in Sudan?
We hope that we can be members of a more collaborative, more explorative and more experimental Sudanese art community.
And how do you go about the creative process in your projects?
Although Locale is made up of a small team, our individual approaches are diverse. We draw inspiration from multiple places and develop a brief accordingly. We all have input in the writing of the briefs and design of projects. Our briefs are usually quite open to interpretation. When we are collaborating with other artists we try our best to give much of the creative direction to them, and set constraints only through our brief by way of the theme or the final format.
Through our briefs and projects we create spaces for creatives to explore and be experimental in their approach to art. We also rely heavily on peer review which is why collaborative work is a big part of what we do.
We’re really curious to know how has Locale’s community impact been received in Sudan and beyond? How have artists and art lovers received your work?
We’ve always known that Sudanese people everywhere applaud Sudanese effort, and just by virtue of who we are as a people we knew that we would be welcomed by the art community in Sudan, yet still we are in awe of their love and kindness. We’ve been supported and raised up by people that we have looked up to in the community and we only hope that they continue to expect more from us and better from us. On a more international level, the support and opportunities we’ve received from outside Sudan, especially from the gulf region, have been overwhelming. Firstly, because they serve as a reminder that we don't have to share the same history for our experiences to resonate, and secondly because they re-affirms what we’ve always known about the talent present in Sudan and its potential
Does being outside of Sudan impact the work the work that you do at all? Does being on the “outside” play a role in what the outcome is?
We wouldn’t so much say that we’re outside as much as we are in-between. Being off the ground does play a role in the logistics of the process but it also plays a big role in how we approach and design our projects. It helps us work with the understanding that there is not a singular common Sudanese experience. They are multiple and diverse and it’s our job to validate, amplify and create for all of them.
Do you feel that the internet played a role in making Locale what it is today? What are your thoughts on how the internet is changing the way art is practiced in the region?
Social Media has been monumental to Sudanese people, because so many of our people exist in diaspora, and because so many others don’t have the access and mobility that an artist would hope for. The internet is our friend, it has been our saving grace as a platform that operates from different corners of the world. It creates a place when a place is not possible, and in a strange way it gives us both reach and intimacy. The internet is expanding what our understanding of art is, and is giving us a deeper understanding of who our artists are.
And how has the arts scene changed since you began Locale?
Sudan has always been very fertile ground for creation and our art is so deeply embedded in our culture and history that we’ve always known that we were walking into something massive. It is definitely more connected and broadcast now than it was before, but that's not so much the doing of Locale. There's a huge surge of creatives and artists coming together and showcasing their work, and it is mostly because of social media and the power of the internet.
Tells us more about your latest publication, ‘Hunak.’ What is the inspiration and concept behind it? Also, what is the inspiration behind the design?
Hunak was a response to the current attitudes towards Sudan and some that have existed for a while. It is clear that living in Sudan is becoming increasingly difficult and things have been quite unstable economically and politically and with that come burdens of ‘staying’ and ‘leaving’. At the same time, Sudan will always hold a special place for those that are away, the diaspora is heavy with nostalgia and that presents the burden of ‘returning’. With Hunak, we wanted to explore those themes within a Sudanese context. Several writers and artists submitted their experiences of having to be away from and having to be in Sudan.
The design was more of an interpretation of the individual pieces that were received. We try to respect the art that is submitted to us by finding the best way to present and showcase it. The content almost always informs our design process. It’s always a challenge because the pieces are so different and one format will not suit everything. Hunak opens up like a folder with stories that are all different but very relatable.
In your opinions, what are the strengths and challenges of the arts scene in Sudan? Do you have any thoughts on the current landscape?
There are more practical challenges like access to funding and how an arts education is received in the community. There are definitely exceptions but most Sudanese artists, ourselves included, create as a ‘side job’. Not many of us pursue careers in art but hopefully this is something that will change with the coming generations. If you think about it, this same vice is a virtue. The fact that creatives are multi-careered brings strength to the work that is being produced, and the topics we are engaging with become incredibly multifaceted.
It’s also really interesting that Locale also operates a Sudanese arts directory. It definitely makes you guys harder to define! How did the directory section of Locale come about? Did you know you were also going to be a directory for the arts?
The Artist Directory seemed like a necessary tool for us to support our main goal of creating a collaborative arts community. We want artists to be able to approach each other and seek out creatives in different disciplines to work and create with. Not forgetting also that Sudan has a large diaspora, and the goal was not only to connect Sudanese artists in Sudan but also those abroad.
Some final thoughts… Do you have any advice for aspiring artists in Sudan and the region at large?
Interrogate your work, find others that share your passions and don’t be afraid to challenge each other and challenge boundaries. Also research is your best friend.
What is in store for Locale in the future?
Growing! We want to reach a larger audience and showcase what Sudanese creatives around the world have to offer. We also want to create a larger interconnected community so that we can cultivate collaborative culture. In the immediate future though, we’re working towards a very cool project that’s extremely important to us and we hope that through it we will be able to make room for conversations about the Sudanese Archive, and the ways through which we preserve our history and culture.
To follow Locale’s work and learn more about them you can follow them on Twitter and Instagram @locale_sd