Darfur | The other "real" side of Sudan
Pedro Matos is an urban engineer. But he is also a humanitarian worker. After an experience in Darfur, where he was for three and a half years at the service of the World Food Programme (WFP), he thought it would be good to dribble the Sudanese laws and photograph people. The result can be seen in Darfur Sartorialist, an 18 images photographic exhibition that was on display in Lisbon (Portugal).
Pedro Matos’s experience in Darfur made him realize that the region can also be "fashionable". And to be trendy or to be "fashion" is not a Rome or New York exclusive. This was the reason that led him to pick up the machine and photograph. He discovered, after all, that Darfur cannot be just associated with words like war, refugees or tragedy. On the contrary, there is a "fashion" side in the refugee camps.
"It is forbidden to take photos in Sudan. I had to be very careful and just started photographing after a while", he says. "This idea was related to my surprise in all the people that I met, and that clashed with the idea I had of what a refugee was, a Muslim woman, an oppressed woman. It is not in the clothes that the oppression of which we have an idea of existing is revealed", he explains.
According to Matos, the Sudanese women "are provocative", and some did pose when photographed. "I began to see that some had a very Western pose, and I remembered the Sartorialist [a blog that shows people's daily lives and the “fashion” way they dress]. Here, in Darfur, it is the day to day clothing, but the poses are very intentional. The colors, the clothes, the Western gestures... The Muslim women, African, and often refugees have a concern with what to wear that is very Western”.
It is this image that the 38 years old, Portuguese engineer wants to pass through the exhibition Darfur Sartorialist. "What I want is to raise the doubt, that people look and think: ‘This is not the Darfur I know, it is not the Muslim world that I know.' The idea is to lift the sand, the discussion", he states, adding that the 18 photographs he chose are those that better show the image he wanted to transmit. "I have many more that I like, but some pull to the stereotype of Africa from which I wanted to escape. I upraise myself against the images of Africa's tragedy, sadness, misfortune. But this (he looks and points to the photographs) it is not also the truth. This is another look that ignores everything else. But that was what I meant to transmit. I wanted to pass the image that this Africa also exists. "
"A no man's land"
The idea of photographing a "fashionable" Darfur came up about a year ago, when the Pedro Matos adventure was already lasting for two and a half years. During that period he did humanitarian work. "I made a census of people that were receiving food aid, so we had to [at the WFP] set up identification and interviews centers and we had to be in the field every day. I was coordinating the interview process and, down deep, cleaning up the lists and adding new names. There were people who got out of the lists and that were not happy, but the help must be given exactly to those who need it".
Pedro Matos has no doubt that he lived a unique experience in Darfur, a region that he assures, "is entering a no man's land, without law". "It will take a long time to improve", he predicts, reminding that he enriched "a lot as a person" with the "passage through Darfur". "Despite recognizing defects in the Islamic world, I also see virtues. The overwhelming majority of Muslims is like us; they get up, take their children to school, they work and in the evening they drink tea with friends. I have lots of Muslim friends".
When asked how the Sudanese are, in general, Pedro Matos says that it is difficult to answer, given the religious and ethnic differences that exist. But one thing makes the difference, the community spirit: "It has to do with something half African, half Arab, which is living in community. The humanitarian food is served in huge trays from where everybody eats”.
Kenya, the next step
After a passage through Portugal, where his exhibition was in two Lisbon spaces – Galeria Zé dos Bois and Livraria Ler Devagar (a gallery and a bookstore) - Pedro Matos embraced a new humanitarian experience, in Kenya. "I will interview the refugees that are in camps on the border with Somalia and South Sudan. I will be in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, for a year", he explains, adding that it is a refugee camp "much bigger" than the one in Sudan. "It is one of the largest in the world. Those in which we were in Darfur had 150/160 thousand people. These have almost 500 thousand”, he concludes.