South Sudanese Enrichment for Families
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Metamorph Library - Audio Tour

From South Sudan to America in Art & Word

Metamorphosis: From South Sudan to Massachusetts

Audio tour that accompanied works displayed September 2018 - Lincoln Public Library

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Animal Kingdom
Acrylic on Canvas, 2004
Donated to South Sudanese Enrichment for Families by The Metcalf/Mastoras Family in honor of their Sudanese friends in Boston
Samuel Ajok
Samuel Ajok is now living and attending school in Nairobi (Kenya). In 2004, when he attended the workshop in Kakuma refugee camp (Kenya), Samuel was fifteen. He is from the Dinka tribe in southern Sudan.

The artist explains that this idyllic vision of African wildlife gathered at a waterhole is a parable for the hoped-for coming of peace: All manner of persons, including former violent enemies, will gather together amiably, in perfect safety.


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I Wish I Had A Chance For School
Acrylic on Canvas
Original owned by Garrett Parker and Helen Peter
Joseph Garang Deng (JoG-De)

Traditionally in southern Sudan, the girls have many chores that keep them busy all day. Even very young girls have to collect firewood, cook meals, fetch water and take care of children. There is no time to go to school.

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Dinka Engagement
Acrylic on Canvas, 2004

Before we left our home, this was the way a young man and a young woman got to know one another. It is the beginning of the courtship. Western culture would call it dating. The guy who came to see the girl lives in the cattle camp and has a lot of cows. The courtship involved families. If you don’t meet the requirements of the girl’s family, you don’t get the girl. This is the beginning of who I am as a Dinka, the process of making courtship in my culture. The next Dinka generation will not practice this tradition as people are moving away from it. It will remain a memory. –Panther

This is a love affair. That is the way it is. The man will come to the girl’s house and stand under the tree, the girl will come. They will tell their names and ask a lot of questions before they talk about love. –Franco

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Empty Village
Acrylic on Canvas, 2002
Atem Aleu
Atem Aleu is from the Dinka tribe in southern Sudan. He was born in 1980. Coming from a family where there were no other artists and having no professional teachers Atem learned to paint on his own. “In Dinka many people are born with the ability to do different things in art, like designing. But nobody came up with drawing in Dinka. In Dinka history there is nobody who has the ability of drawing pictures. Only one person who lived in the south of Sudan went to school and learned how to draw. But many people in Dinka, they just do traditional things,” Atem says. It was in Kakuma refugee camp (Kenya) that he learned to paint. After being resettled to Utah (the United States) Atem has been continuously returning to Kenya and Uganda to teach drawing, writing and music.

That is the memory of my village, in particular my home. The beautiful blue sky and the green tree is how I remember my home. I just put my memories back. Because of the war many people left the place as they tried to kill everybody. You can see people running. Nobody lived there for years. The dark door of the house is the warning for people not to go inside because nobody knows what might be hiding there. It is dangerous to go back to my memories through that door. When I go to my memories too far, to the beginning, it is dangerous. I can’t go back to 1983 or 1984 when my parents were killed. ­
—Atem Aleu


A Cattle Camp
Ellen Morgan

For the Dinka Tribe, cows are a form of currency and celebration. The slaughter of a cow happens when there is a marriage, a special gathering, or for religious reasons. A man buys cows to negotiate with the wife’s family for a dowry. If agreed upon, the woman’s family gives the cows to members of her family. In this way, the community and the family sanction the union.

The cows are kept in cattle camps, away from the huts. The men and boys tend the cattle there. The men pass down the stories of the tribe at the cattle camps; the boys learn songs and how to wrestle from their elders in the cattle camps.

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Broken Promises
Acrylic on Canvas, 2004
Stephenal Thakiy
Stephenal Thakiy is from the Nuer tribe in southern Sudan. He has been in Kakuma refugee camp (Kenya) since he arrived in 1992. Atem Aleu, who has known Stephenal since 1999, says: “I think he has nowhere to go at this moment. He’s staying there in the camp. I don’t think he has a family. He’s been living by himself. I’ve been to the house where he lives, and there wasn’t anyone living with him. I think he’s living by himself. And he does everything by himself, taking care of himself.”

Several South Sudanese community members partners speculated that the artist is alluding to the breaking of marriage vows, brought on by years of violent conflict and forced migration. The title may also evoke the widespread sense that the United States and the international community have not fulfilled their promises to safeguard the long-suffering peoples of Sudan. 

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For How Long Must I Wrestle with my Thought and Everyday Have Sorrow In My Heart
Acrylic on Canvas, 2004
Peter Makuol Maketh
Peter Makuol Maketh is from the Dinka tribe in southern Sudan. He attended the workshop in 2004. Currently Peter, who is around thirty years old, is in the town of Juba where he has joined the military of South Sudan.

South Sudanese community members explain that during the southern Sudanese struggle, women have taken special responsibilities to pray for the souls of the dead and for the coming of peace. We heard different interpretations of the diagonal element worn by the praying woman. One person believed she was wearing an ammunition belt and holster, and commented on women’s double roles as liberation fighters and as spiritual guides. Another person understood the sash as a religious symbol, signifying the power of faith in the face of tragic death and loss.

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Victim of War
Acrylic on Canvas, 2004
Ajok Mayol
Ajok Mayol was the youngest of the artists who attended the workshop in Kakuma refugee camp (Kenya) in 2004. He is from the Dinka tribe in southern Sudan. When Atem Aleu met him in 2004, Ajok said he was planning to go to Lokichoico on the border between Sudan and Kenya. He was twelve when he painted this.

This image is familiar to those who lived in refugee camps as a daily scene of brutal deprivation; it is also familiar to many of us, who are instead reminded of the famous Kevin Carter photo of another dying refugee child. This depiction reminds us of that photo, but its brutality is tempered by the mother figure, her gentle touch, and the use of the color green, which Atem Aleu says is the Sudanese color for healing and hope. The green is used both across the entire horizon of living trees and in the skirt of the mother figure. The coarse landscape of the painting­—with layers of textured paint —may evoke the importance of the land to the Sudanese. 

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The Gilo River
Acrylic on Canvas, 2004
Stephenal Thakiy

This painting reminds many South Sudanese community members of their crossing of the Gilo River during their exodus from Ethiopia in the early 1990s.  Fleeing machine gun fire, the children were forced to swim across crocodile-infested waters. Many did not survive.

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Culture is Better than Civilization
Acrylic on Canvas, 2004
Donated to South Sudanese Enrichment for Families by Maryanne and Gary Sachs
Stephenal Thakiy

As painted here she’s a town girl but at the same time there’s a lot of influence you get when you are mixed up with other cultures, but you have to keep your culture. 

Sometimes when you see horrible things in your country you feel ashamed and you just want to pretend to forget all the culture that you have. Trying to do that might impact later on your children. If I don’t remind [my child] of the stories, my culture and my ancestors, like how Dinka culture was like he won’t be able to remember because he doesn’t know anything about it unless I tell him. My expectations I have on my child are that he will grow with certain values that my parents taught me and those values are part of me no matter how much I try to pretend to detach myself from this culture. It’s not going to go anywhere because I was born in that specific area and that’s who I am.—Yar

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Jimmy—(full name of the artist is unknown)

Some members of the Boston South Sudanese Community remember coming to the United States with nothing. Their culture is not one that has many “things” as we do in America. Most left home in a hurry …they only had the clothes that were on their backs. Some grabbed a Bible when they left Sudan and walked through Sudan to Ethiopia and then to Sudan, and Kenya and for some….to America.

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The How and the Why
Jam Aguer Tungadit

One can imagine that when the South Sudanese came to America, they found that things were very different here than in Sudan. Things looked different, smelled different and were different. The refugees and immigrants had to learn everything about American culture- this can take a lifetime.


Still Coming
Acrylic on Canvas, 2004
Atem Aleu

Amidst the darkness, there is hope for peace. 

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Origin of Death
Oil on Canvas, 2005
Atem Aleu

The artist alludes to a well-known story from Dinka mythology. In ancient times, the earth and the sky were so close that they were linked by a single rope; anyone who died could ascend the rope to be reborn. A woman cultivating more than her share of grain killed a baby bird, causing the bird’s mother to sever the rope in revenge, bringing true death into the world. At the same time, the bird cutting the rope also signifies the enduring hope for peace: in the midst of pain and privation visions of hope and regeneration endure.


The Musician
Acrylic on Canvas, 2007
Donated to SSEF in honor of James Ayuiik, Atem Garang and William Mauil the “cultural leaders” of the South Sudanese community in Massachusetts by Susan Winship.
Daniel Ukoth