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Sudan election: Can art keep the country together?

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Even though a 2011 referendum will follow close on the heels of this week's vote for president and parliament, which have already exposed deep divisions between the once-warring parties of the North and South of Sudan, the members of Sudan Unite refuse to believe that their efforts are coming too late.

That's why they are taking their message to the streets, painting murals, holding public impromptu concerts, and reminding Sudanese of all religions and cultures of how much they all have in common.

“We decided to take action, not to stop the people of the south to express their desire for separation, but to show the beauty of all the people of Sudan, and the respect for all the cultures of Sudan,” says Sabry Babikar, a researcher in international law, and co-founder of Sudan Unite.

He points to the rich collection of Sudanese around him: northern Muslims, Christian southerners, sipping tea in the late afternoon, in front of a long wall of murals depicting the various cultures of Sudan.

“It’s the politicians who say we can’t live together,” he says. “But here we are, all sitting together.”

Homeless man paints powerful message

Here on Comboni Street, the Sudan Unite message comes out loud and strong. There is a life-sized portrait of a child – painted by homeless children with paint given them by Sudan Unite – one leg painted with the flag of the southern based liberation party SPLM; the other leg is painted with the flag of the northern ruling Islamist party, the National Congress Party.

Another painting by Hamid features a Noah’s Ark full of people, some in the garb of southern Dinkas, others in the clothes of western Darfuris; some dressed as Arabs, others dressed as Nubians from the north.

Some paintings, like Hamid’s, are technically impressive, while others are simple but powerful in their message. One homeless man, given paints by Sudan Unite, painted a Sudanese flag, ripped in half, but painstakingly stitched back together.

British role in historical division

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