Art Heritage, Resilience and Humanitarianism in South Sudan

Art Heritage, Resilience and Humanitarianism in South Sudan

This project documents tangible and intangible art in South Sudan and explores how resilience and human dignity are conceptualised by different genres. Following the end of war with Sudan and independence in 2011, a resumption of conflict has left devastation on a mass scale in South Sudan. Over 4 million people are dependent on humanitarian aid assistance with just under 2 million internally displaced. This project aims to reflect on what can be gained and learnt by bringing artistic concepts around resilience into current humanitarian programming.


The research team is working to investigate how art and heritage reveal different expressions of resilience, compared with how humanitarian actors understand and operationalise the concept.

Core research questions

• How is resilience understood and expressed in and through different art forms in South Sudan?

• How different are the expressions of resilience present in art compared with the way humanitarian actors understand and operationalise the concept?

• What potential is there to use art as a way of approaching human development in South Sudan in a more sensitive, dignified way?

• What can we learn about how different vulnerable groups experience and respond to “shocks” through a focus on art?


These insights are used as a basis to reflect on how and if programmes can be positioned differently in response to more nuanced understanding of resilience. The humanitarian situation in South Sudan is increasingly fractured, with many considering it as one of the worst in the world. After several failed peace agreements, continued communal conflicts and violence, a political stalemate and economic collapse, many international observers and South Sudanese alike find themselves paralysed and confused as to the most effective next steps towards conflict resolution and nation-building.

The current situation is layered over a much longer history of enslavement, colonisation, uneven development and civil war. Humanitarian access is increasingly difficult due to insecurity, poor infrastructure and an environment seen by donors as increasingly hostile. Post-independence South Sudan has seen a sudden influx of international donors that bring the risk of what has been termed ‘donor fatigue’. This fatigue can be seen in the reluctance to do things differently and a slowness to innovative new approaches to human development.

This project carries the overarching objective of generating new knowledge to drive a more dynamic and sensitive approach to community resilience and peace brokering. Secondary objectives focus on leaving a legacy in the form of practical tools based on specific genres of art, such as storytelling, that lend themselves to reflective and sensitive exploration into different ways of approaching development.

This project is funding by the British Academy/Global Challenges Research Fund Sustainable Development Programme. It will run for 24 months from September 2018 to August 2020. The project is led by Prof Tamsin Bradley at the University of Portsmouth, and is a collaboration with academics at UCL, The African Studies Centre at the University of Oxford, the University of Juba, the Catholic University of South Sudan and the Likikiri Collective.

performance in yambio

Performance in Yambio, South Sudan. Photo credit: El-fatih Atem, Likikir Collective