“I lie here in red dust, which represents the soil of South Sudan. Piny Nhom, meaning “The Ground” in Dinka Bor language, is the opposite of Heaven. As in many origin stories, The Ground is the place where Divinity left us, according to the Dinka tradition. Piny also means down, The Earth, and dirt. It’s the place we maintain constant connection with while we’re alive.
When I approached this work, I planned on recreating a death ritual whereby a person whose time has come is allowed to die with the assistance of their family. They lay or sit on the ground and have members of their family and community dance around them, allowing the pervasive dust to rise and eventually suffocate them. I wanted to, in my way, acknowledge this ritual that I’d heard stories of, that feels so powerful and freeing as a final exit, and yet antithetical to Christian teachings that informed so much of my early life.
It felt important that I would be making these works at 7, 8 and 9 months pregnant, laying in red dirt shipped to me in Melbourne, my home, from the Central Australian desert. There is a great uncertainty in the works. I float, I become entangled, I lay and sometimes sleep. I am covered and grand, and I am sometimes grainy limbs and body parts. My thoughts are a collection of misremembered religion and spirituality that is held up by dust and dirt. These works are about a continuation, a questioning, and a million little deaths.
Every time I want to make a definitive statement about Dinka Bor anything, I remember that it’s only what I know. And then, I feel less certain. Perhaps it’s just what I remember or think I remember from childhood.”
Words: Atong Atem
The fourteenth edition of PhotoIreland Festival, titled R/evolutions, takes place from June 30 to August 27 in The Printworks, Dublin Castle.
Read more on what you can expect to see at the Festival in our editor’s overview here.