She is a Country is an exhibition featuring acrylic paint, soft pastel and oil pastel works by Leena Kheir, paying homage to Sudanese women and their centrality to nostalgic conceptions of home and family, as embodied by the Sudanese tobe. This collection showcases the resilience, strength, and significance of the tobe, both as a cultural emblem and a representation of the diasporic condition.
In 2019, Sudanese women played a pivotal role in the Sudanese Revolution, comprising as much as 70% of the daily street protestors according to multiple reports. Initially centered around urgent economic reforms due to the rising costs of living and deteriorating economic conditions, the protests rapidly evolved into a demand for President Omar al-Bashir to step down. The overthrow unfolded through a nonviolent civil insurrection that engaged millions of Sudanese citizens. Amidst these protests, Sudanese women prominently took centre stage, some adorned in sparkling white tobes, passionately raising their voices in revolutionary chants and songs. The captivating images of these women quickly went viral, turning the Sudanese tobe into an iconic symbol seen on screens worldwide.
The traditional Sudanese tobe, a 4 to 7 metre length of rectangular fabric, meticulously wrapped and gracefully draped over the head by Sudanese women, emerges as a central theme in the exhibition’s exploration of culture and identity. Available in various materials, from cotton to the finest silks, the fabrics can be plain or embellished with intricate designs, either printed or embroidered onto its length. As visitors engage with She is a Country, they are invited to contemplate the layers of meaning within the folds of the tobe, reflecting not only the intimate moments of personal significance but also the broader social and global connections.