from Sudan, born in 1988 in Khartoum. A photographer, activist, and filmmaker, she joined her host organization Gängeviertel e.V. in Hamburg as the recipient of an MRI scholarship in February 2020.
Eleven jurors of one mind: the beneficiary of the 5th Prix de la Photo Madame Figaro in July 2021 was determined quickly – Eythar Gubara. The jury unanimously selected “a young photographer who hails from a country in which there isn’t much space for photographs of women: Sudan.”
Fascinating images of a difficult issue
The jury was convinced by Gubara’s activism in support of human rights and the rights of lesbian women and the LGBTQ+ community in her country. The panel was equally compelled by her artistic work: "Her fascinating images – twilight in black and white or in colour – show faces or silhouettes of women who are mysterious and strong. Through them, she tells the story of patriarchal society in Sudan and its control over the female body and its clothing."
Ten years ago Eythar Gubara would not have imagined that she would one day be so celebrated or live the life she leads now – as an artist on the international stage and an openly lesbian activist. As the youngest child and the only daughter of an academic family, she grew up with two older brothers in Atbara, an administrative town about 200 kilometres north of Khartoum, the capital. After secondary school, she took a more traditional path: she studied computer science, worked as a sales manager and got married. "I was already a lesbian at that time, but I was in denial", she says.
Things did not go well. She experienced violence in her marriage and realized she had to get out. It was the first of three major ruptures in Eythar Gubara's life: her hard-won divorce in 2014; then the revolution in Sudan, which she helped to galvanize as an activist, and which ended the decades-long dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir in June 2019. And then January 2020, when she left her country to escape the persecution she continues to face as a homosexual even despite the coup, and moved to Germany as a beneficiary of a Martin Roth-Initiative scholarship.
Three turning points that she herself helped to bring about because she was determined to go on living and had to stay true to herself to do so. In Sudan, however, this is still not possible for her. Since the fall of Bashir, women have had considerably more rights: genital mutilation is now prohibited, as is flogging for wearing "inappropriate clothing" (such as trousers). The death penalty as punishment for homosexuality has also been abolished.
A life sentence for loving the wrong person
But same-sex love is still considered a crime and carries severe penalties – including corporal punishment and imprisonment that can range from five years to life. And that's just the legal side of things, says Eythar Gubara. "Society blames us for every disaster. They blame us when there's flooding, we're to blame when prices go up – because supposedly we anger God." And even though the death penalty has been officially abolished, gays and lesbians are still often killed – in attacks, when doctors refuse to treat them, or by their own relatives. "Then the family says, ‘Oh, he or she was sick and died suddenly.’ Which is not true."
Giving a voice to women who have been raped
Photography is her means by which to draw attention to the oppression of women and homosexuals in Sudan and to make visible the consequences for those affected. Eythar Gubara has always enjoyed photography. Her parents – who to this day support her as an artist and in her life choices whenever possible – gave her her first professional camera in 2013. She enrolled in a series of photography courses at the Goethe Institute in Khartoum, studied the history and genres of photography, educated herself with the help of YouTube, and thus developed her own unique style.
"In 2016, I decided that I wanted to give a voice to the many women in Sudan who are victims of marital rape. I know a lot of them." That's how her photo "Standing Like a Ghost, Watching My Dreams Go Away" came about: a woman wrapped in a white veil looks out the window into the night. On the rumpled bed in front of her are a pair of bare male legs.
“An artist is someone who wants to effect change.”
Eythar Gubara has seen herself as a photographic artist ever since. "Because my way of doing photography has changed. Even the reason why I take photographs has changed: being an artist means taking action to effect change. As an artist, I want to change something in society, I want to convey messages, and I do so with my own unique perspective." To achieve this, she talks to people, listens to their story and develops her own attitude toward it. "And then I see the story as a picture in front of me."
Since residing in Germany, she has been able to make her photos more explicit. Gubara has already taken photos that contain nudity in Sudan, but never showed the faces of the models, as they would have to fear draconian punishments otherwise. "Not everything is easy in Hamburg, either. I encounter racism on the street, the people here are more distant", says Eythar Gubara, "but still… here I feel free." She would only return to Sudan if some kind of second revolution took place. "We overthrew the Bashir regime. That was a tremendous achievement of our generation." For the LGTBQ community, however, too little has changed.
(translated from German into English)
Gängeviertel e.V. cooperates as a host organisation with the Martin Roth-Initiative. Gängeviertel offers a space in Hamburg's city centre where new things can emerge through art, culture and conversations, in studios, flats and social projects.
Text: Marion Meyer-Radtke; editing: MRI
Portrait photos and videography: Rolf Schulten; other photos in Video/Audioslideshow: Eythar Gubara
Video/audio slideshow design: Johanna Barnbeck
Photos in gallery 1: Eythar Gubara
Photos in gallery 2: Rolf Schulten
Gängeviertel e.V. kooperiert als Gastorganisation mit der Martin Roth-Initiative. Das Gängeviertel bietet in der Hamburger Innenstadt einen Raum, in dem Neues entstehen kann durch Kunst, Kultur und Gespräche, in Ateliers, Wohnungen und sozialen Projekten.
Text: Marion Meyer-Radtke; Redaktion: MRI
Portraitfotos und Videoaufnahmen: Rolf Schulten; andere Fotos in Video/Audioslideshow: Eythar Gubara
Gestaltung Video/Audioslideshow: Johanna Barnbeck
Fotos in Galerie 1: Eythar Gubara
Fotos in Galerie 2: Rolf Schulten