My participation in the Canadian Forces Artist Program included 6 weeks of specialized training for deployment to hazardous environments and UN military observer/peacekeeping service, followed by a month-long tour of Sudan embedded with the Canadian Forces as an Official Guest of the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS). Both pre-deployment training and deployment were intense, dislocating and disorienting. In hindsight, the utility of the training was its very disorientation –one prepares best for the indescribable who does not pretend to a capacity or readiness to understand. I submitted to the CFAP experience to learn about protection, trauma and post trauma, and gain new perspectives on colonial narratives. As an artist of the African Diaspora, I have been particularly focused on making sense of the experience through the privilege of a Canadian filter within the echoes of my family history – colonials and Afro-Caribbeans of the transatlantic slave trade / refugees of Nazi Germany.

Thanks to the candour (and sometimes awe, and despair) of my military escorts I saw and heard of events that civilians do not –events reserved for military or humanitarian insiders, censored from dissemination by local authorities, diluted and neutralized by bureaucracies, suppressed or marginalized by mainstream media. In fact, throughout my travels I, and others there to witness, were subject to strict prohibitions on photography enforced by desperate individuals wielding readied AK-47s, at sites where arbitrary, violent death did not, and again would not, bear any consequence.

In all I traveled to 6 UN team sites distributed throughout north and south Sudan, including three sites near the brutally contested north / south border zone (Sudan’s contribution to the hell belt) established by the 2005 US brokered Comprehensive Peace Agreement. At each team site I participated in peacekeeping activity and gained valuable first hand knowledge of UN mission operations, roles and relations to their respective mission communities. I participated in patrols to hospitals, schools, remote villages making simple life on the edge of the Nile, displaced persons camps, and even a small zoo. Here armed staff out-number the animals ten to one –as bored and lethargic as the animals they guard. At the South Sudan Wild Life Protection Service one could pet hyenas on the snout through the cage bars. I was invited to provoke the crocodile by throwing stones into his little brown pool. I asked instead to photograph but was refused. I participated in a boat patrol, operated by the Bangladeshi Navy. An hour and a half up the White Nile to Oachi, we arrived at the garrison village of an alleged renegade faction of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) –an unimaginably squalid settlement of aimless, broken spirits, heavily armed, poverty stricken. Colourful plastic rubbish, excrement, little glass Malarone bottles, choleric puddles ... Oachi’s dusty children had only two roles to model –the lost, traumatized and idle, or the uniformed, armed, purposed. No photographs were permitted.

Before my travel to Sudan, I would wish to make sense of the concept global citizen, of world events, of intervention, of beauty and the violent order it interrupted. From the safety of here, of our skins, our institutions, the shoulders of our dead, I could imagine understanding, and even grope for explanations. If before I believed the world was amenable to being explained, to making sense, it was from my comfortable seat in the theatre of our institutions, resources, entitlements and entertainments. It is a belief arising from walled-off, supervised and patrolled ignorance. It is a belief sustained by the very agents of information that bring us news of elsewhere –network, wire and page.

As I am informed about the world and its unfortunates from the privileges of safety, so I am distanced from them. The impossibility of language, and its ornaments –photos, reports, documentaries, clips, to convey experience so far beyond its own context is unimaginable. I went to Sudan to observe alongside the Observers of extreme human cruelty, to attenuate my elegant defences, and to reach a little better through that wall, to touch a small part of the body of Africa. I breathed her air, I let her eyes see me and looked into her own, and I returned. after Africa is the story of that difficult gift, and the vision that pursues me because of it.

nichola feldman-kiss ©2012

after Africa, 2011 – 2014

“So long, Farewell” (sunset) / a yard of ashes (continuous cross dissolve) / “Oh! How I hate to get up in the morning!” (sunrise), 2012, video triptych one of three channels

Defensive Points (Nuba Mountains, Sudan), 2011

photography, ink jet art print, one of four works

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until the story of the hunt is told by the lion / facing horror and the possibility of shame (Jonglei State, Sudan), 2011-2013

a time-based installation of 61 back lit photographs, 3 channels of directional sound, variable dimensions up to 20 meters 2

within the state of exception, 2011-2013

identity documents, 3D print, Sterling silver, one of five works, ~ 7 x 9.5 x .5 cm 

So that you’ll know. Ten martyrs for every innocent. (Improvised Explosive Device), 2011-2013

photography, ink jet art print, one of three works

nichola feldman kiss art and designindex.htm.html