El Obeid is a dynamic city with many active groups and institutions in the fields of culture and arts, such as the French Association, Roots Band, and Maarifiyoon group for democracy and development. It has also a good balance of cultural activities and events at the local and national levels; such as the famous Beshaish festival.
The Beshaish Performing Arts and Development Foundation is one of the beacons of light that exploded in El Obeid and shone beyond its range to affect many aspects of the cultural sector. Ruaa Altayeb, a project coordinator with the Sadaqat community and a student at the Institute for Peace and Development Studies in El Obeid, has interests in culture and arts and is considered one of the earliest friends of the Beshaish Foundations. Reflecting on more than 5 years of engaging with the Foundation, she tells us:
“One of the notable things in Beshaish experience is that it is a young establishment, and it tackles sensitive issues that the society needs to raise awareness about in a different way; which is what does Beshaish through performing arts. I think they were able to bring their vision into reality, evident by the great engagement with their events and the ecosystem they created in the North Kordofan community out of the Beshaish Festival experience”.
Taken by: Sam photography
Amassi Nuri Hamdoun, a student at the Faculty of Arts at the University of Kordofan and a member of the Beshaish choir, says that the situation of women inside the institution is fairly good, and she thinks that women at Beshaish have their own voice and mark that no one denies, and this is part of Beshaish's vision of gender equality. But in terms of a numerical representation of women within the institution, there is a deficit. Yet, it’s understandable due to the plethora of issues women in Sudan are fighting for, to reclaim their natural place in all areas. Thus, Beshaish is no exception because it is part of this society.
Nonetheless, the Beshaish Foundation prioritizes women and their issues, whether it is health issues such as female genital mutilation, or social issues that have negative effects on women in life; such as underage marriage or violence against women. This great interest in women is embodied in the slogan of the latest version of the Beshaish festival, titled "Theater and Women Issues".
In this interview, Muammar Al Gaddafi Mohieldin, actor, theater director, and the general director of the Beshaish Center talks to us about the idea, establishment, and vision for social change through culture and arts. We also learn about the activities and events organized by Beshaish, and the concerns and challenges of cultural work.
Taken by: Sam photography
When was the Beshaish project established?
Muammar: Beshaish started as a theater group in 2005 after our active participation through performing arts in the peace and reconciliation process of the Lagawa region in South Kordofan. At the beginning of 2009, we decided to develop the idea, so we registered it as a non-profit organization with the Humanitarian Aid Commission. Back then it was named (Beshaish for Peace, Culture, and Development), and in 2010 this name was changed to the (Beshaish Foundation for Performing Arts and Development), and this is the current name of the foundation.
The arts are among the most effective tools in bringing change in the consciousness of societies. What is the vision of Beshaish as a foundation towards the social change cause?
Muammar: Encouraging and supporting society through the arts to achieve multiple goals in the areas of peace, awareness, and the spread of a healthy civic culture.
Beshaish started as a theatrical group in El Obeid, and now it is an institution with more than one office in three different states. Tell us about the groups under Beshaish’s flag?
Muammar: The Interactive theater group, shadow theater, Beshaish Choir, Beshaish Gallery, Beshaish Forum, and the Beshaish Mine to Discover the talents of youth and children.
Beshaish Festival is considered one of the most important cultural events in Sudan because it broke the centrality of cultural action and pushed it out of Khartoum. Tell us about the Beshaish festival experience?
Muammar: Beshaish Festival was established as an answer to the question of “what is the alternative to the Buqa'a theater festival?” which was held in the capital, Khartoum, every year. In the Buqa’a festival, theater performers from all the different cities of Sudan participate. It had not witnessed any development over the editions in which we participated, but the Beshaish Festival proposal was shelved since 2008 for various reasons such as funding. It finally took off for the first time in 2015.
In the first edition of the festival, we faced many difficulties because of the funding issue, especially after the authorities responsible for overseeing cultural events relinquished their financial obligations. Yet, the great cooperation shown by the participating teams, journalists, and critics contributed greatly to the success of the first edition of the Beshaish Festival and motivated us to continue.
The 2017 edition was considered one of the most distinguished versions of the festival. Preparation began early and there was wide participation of groups, critics, and dramatists such as the great theater director AlRasheed Ahmed Issa, the Egyptian director Nora Amin who attended from Germany, and the artist Stephen Uchila, who trained the Bishaish group on performing arts. As for the last edition in 2018, it was generously sponsored by the UNFPA.
Taken by: Sam photography
One of the biggest obstacles facing cultural actors during the past three decades during the rule of Islamists was the question of funding. How did you manage this issue?
Muammar: Beshaish has two types of activities; the first is partnerships and programs with international organizations, most of which were related to health awareness, changing harmful behaviors and habits, issues of social peace, and awareness about civil rights. As for the second type of activity, which is the unsupported activity, we rely on the contributions of the Foundation's members, friends of Beshaish, partners from the local community, and civil society.
What are the activities and events organized by the Beshaish Festival?
Muammar: In each version, the festival raises a specific issue, and teams and groups compete in performing plays that deal with this issue artistically in live performances in neighborhoods, markets, and theaters. In the first version, the festival slogan was “theater and peace”, the second version came under the slogan of “theater and education” and the third version had the slogan “theater for changing unsafe health behaviors”. Finally, “theater and women’s issues” was the slogan of the last version.
The festival, due to the great sacrifices made by the believers in the idea of Beshaish, created a state of interdependence and transformed the arts into a daily act in which the whole community takes part in one way or another. And thanks to the festival today, all the homes of creative people in Sudan are our homes.
Is it possible to see Beshaish festival resume its activities in the near future?
Muammar: The festival will return in 2021 and it will be every two years. This is part of the festival's development plan to produce it in a way that contributes to achieving the goals of the project and meeting the aspirations of art connoisseurs.
Sudan is in a transitional stage, and the arts are a solid building block. What is Beshaish’s vision for peace as one of the conditions that must be achieved to effect change?
Muammar: Beshaish, since its inception, has been linked to peace, so we have to lead change through arts using wisdom and awareness as much as possible, and this is what the country needs at this critical stage in its history. The task of removing grudges and shattering hate speech is our responsibility as artists and cultural actors because art is to see the world and the other side with eyes of love and beauty.
The December Revolution was the result of cumulative acts of different arts, including literature, theater, and poetry, and this was embodied in the revolution’s chants, songs, and murals. The Qiyada sit-in was nothing but an artistic city par excellence. Now, after the success of the revolution, where do you see the place of culture and arts in the public space?
Muammar: We expected a greater role for arts and cultural actors after the change that took place in Sudan, but unfortunately it didn’t happen. There is still neglect at the level of laws and legislation and official support for cultural actors and cultural centers.
Building a modern state does not only bring about political change, but cultural change is an important element that cannot be ignored. Listening to artists and intellectuals and sitting with them in one table establishes a new cultural vision for the new Sudan. We, in Beshaish, are members of the civil society, and we are ready to do everything that would establish a post-revolution Sudan, which is the dream of every Sudanese.
As part of its strategy to make peace through arts, Beshaish foundation seeks to organize and participate in many events, including workshops that discuss cultural policies. We will also participate in the Theater for Peace event in collaboration with the Sudanese Drama Group in North Kordofan. Beshaish will also organize the "Artists Journey", a journey in which a group of artists will travel on foot from El Obeid to the Sudanese capital Khartoum, crossing a distance of more than 426 kilometers. The journey is designed to create interaction between the artists and society to enhance the historical roles that art played, which accumulated to this change that is happening in Sudan right now.