A group of artists are campaigning for peace, with pop-up street performances and murals across the capital, Juba. The activists have taken the name Ana Taban, which means “I am tired” in Arabic.
Musicians played lively tunes in South Sudan’s capital, and pedestrians and market shoppers watched the impromptu concert with curiosity. A soldier in desert camouflage walked around, surveying the scene. As the drumming grew more persistent, the audience stood silent and motionless, seemingly afraid to join the fun. Then the soldier began to break-dance.
That broke the ice and people began sway to the beat. Soon, all the children and adults were dancing, enjoying a rare respite from South Sudan’s festering conflict.
For many in South Sudan, the arts have become a rare haven of peace in a young country that has known little but civil war. Now a group of artists are campaigning for peace, with pop-up street performances and murals across the capital, Juba. The activists – Ana Taban.
“We are tired of this, the constant fear, the war” said Manas Mathiang, 32, a musician and artist who leads the movement. Recently Mathiang met with nearly 30 artists who are part of Ana Taban. Members come from many of South Sudan’s main tribes. They say that ethnicity has never been an issue, and they invite other artists “regardless of where they come from”.
The group has painted vibrant murals in Juba like one near the airport, a sky-blue wall depicting athletes, religious leaders and doctors under the slogan “Let us all do our part”. The artists also stage skits in street markets to promote reconciliation.
Ana Taban was established after fighting in Juba had killed hundreds of people in July. A group of South Sudanese artists who had taken refuge in Kenya came together to create the movement. When it was safe to return to the capital, they brought home the campaign for peace.
Transcending tribe and politics, the artists use their work to try to unify South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, which won independence from Sudan in 2011. But civil war broke out in the country only two years later, with tens of thousands of people killed amid concerns of ethnic violence.
Another member of Ana Taban, Deng Forbes, proudly held up his favourite work, a drawing of a child crying, in the shape of a map of South Sudan. “My people are diverse, 64 tribes”, Forbes said. “Art is a universal language, it’s a simple language”.
In some ways, South Sudan’s arts scene is like that in other countries, clustered in an offbeat section of the capital. Good equipment is rare. Artists say it is difficult to make money from their work. Feuds are common. But much of South Sudan’s art is focused on the country’s political tensions. Lual D’Awol, a popular rapper who appeared in an Ana Taban music video, said his songs about the lack of electricity and running water are currently banned from the radio by the government. “It’s telling the truth about how citizens of South Sudan feel, and I believe I have a duty to paint the picture of reality and provide a true message about what is genuinely happening”, D’Awol said.
Ana Taban, the artists movement roadshow, plays in front of an audience in Juba, South Sudan. For many in South Sudan, the arts have become a rare haven of peace in a young country that has known little but civil war.