July 2 – Sept. 25, 2016 | Dominic Nahr | Fractured State
An exhibition of the Swiss Foundation for Photography in collaboration with The Manuel Rivera-Ortiz Foundation for Documentary Photography & Film
Curators: Peter Pfrunder and Dominic Nahr, in collaboration with Nicolas Havette
Associated Program of Les Rencontres d’Arles 2016
Gaining independence on July 9, 2011, the world’s youngest nation was born. Welcoming South Sudan as the 193rd member to the community of nations, Secretary-General to the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, said, “I am confident that South Sudan will contribute to promote the objectives of security, peace, prosperity, friendship and cooperation between peoples.” Five years later the UN reported on the desperate situation in South Sudan: 2.5 million people uprooted in fighting that started with a political impasse in mid-December 2013 between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar. More than 50,000 people killed, and nearly 100,000 civilians sought shelter in camps ran by the UN across the country. War, violence, famine, and disease have driven the East African nation into a humanitarian catastrophe.
Swiss photographer Dominic Nahr followed these developments since 2010 on several extensive trips to South Sudan and experienced the dramatic change from hope and joy to horror and despair. “We don’t understand South Sudan – nor do we try. If anything, the terrible war of brutality that followed the nation’s birth demands we accept this truth, and try again,” Nahr concludes.
He looked behind the facades of the political conflict and focused on the people who are struggling to survive between the warring parties and the rivaling militia groups. His powerful images show mothers and children fleeing into swamps and savannas, moving from island to island trying to hide from militias torching their villages, and hoping to return home one day. By tracing the paths of families as they crisscrossed the country in search of safety, and by spending time with men inflicting this suffering, Nahr points at the dissonance between the original concept of a peaceful, united country and the reality its people are facing.
His photographs convey the feeling of solidarity, “If South Sudan as a nation is failing, the South Sudanese as people are not. Even as violence drives neighbors apart, people are driven closer together. Social support structures – as the family, the clan, the church – are now stronger than ever.”
The exhibition of the Swiss Foundation for Photography is the first major presentation of this long term project. The photographs document crucial stages in the short history of South Sudan: Pre-independence in the disputed region Abyei; the celebration of the new state in the capital Juba; the people of the Nuba Mountains in the north of the country as they were left to fend for themselves; the brief invasion into neighboring Sudan; and the humanitarian disaster following the civil war that started in late 2013. Displayed in a multifaceted installation, the photographs bring together the subjective view of the photographer and the hard facts of the unsolved conflict.