Ala Kheir was born in Nyala (Darfur, Sudan) and currently lives and works in Khartoum, Sudan. A qualified engineer, he has been deeply interested in photography since secondary school, but started studying the medium in-depth in 2005 when he purchased his first SLR. “I try to use photography with the aim of self-reflection, while enjoying the process and the difficulty to make a simple photograph that delivers a message,” Kheir writes. Working across a diverse range of styles, he does not limit himself to a specific subject, instead photographing that which critically satisfies his vision of photography. A major theme in Ala Kheir’s work is to explore Khartoum, the city where he grew up. His image making employs a subtle approach to address the complexity of the city, as well as the social/economic issues that are shaping the country now as it goes through changes and political shifts.
His work has been exhibited internationally, including Green April at the Kigali Photo festival (2019); The Periphery at the Lagos Photo Festival (2018); Collectivism, with Invisible Borders, FOAM, Amsterdam (2017); solo exhibitions of Revisiting Khartoum at African Capitals, Paris (2017) and Dak’Art Contemporary African Art Biennale, Dakar (2016); From Khartoum to Addis, Venice Biennale (2015); Africa Big Change Big Chance, Milan (2014); Invisible Borders, Addis Photo Festival (2012); a solo exhibition of Khartoum, Addis Photo Festival (2012); and The Un-governables, New York (2012).
Kheir is founder of the Other Vision photography platform, active in photography education, archiving and development in Sudan. Kheir’s work is a symbol for a country that has undergone huge crises and through his eyes we get to understand the country better and its history in these uncertain times of change and transition.
There is a complex relationship here in Khartoum between it’s inhabitants and the river. A relationship that is hard to describe, but in short, I think we can say that the river banks is Khartoum’s public space as it devides the city into three and any one can have access to the riverbanks at anytime. However, there are different spots and different socials groups have their own spots. But overall, these “beaches” by the riverbanks in Khartoum has its own culture, its own mood very different from the city vibes. And that’s why it is the ultimate public space.
I consider myself a regular to many of these spots. When I am there, I have my own ideas and mind set and feelings and the intention to photograph. However, I often find myself also enjoying the experience of just being there witnessing moments, interactions, and the complex river-city relationship. These series of images are an attempt to record moments of interactions between myself, the space, and people.
Khartoum is a very strange city, even for someone who spent most of his life here. Through photography I have been using Khartoum like a playground, wondering around trying to discover and re-discover feelings that are continuously changing as the city.
In 2014, I have started my first photo narrative about Khartoum called “Revisiting khartoum” , where I visit familiar spaces in downtown Khartoum that I used to visit with my parents when I was a young boy. I photographed these spaces linking what I see now to how it felt 30 years ago. documenting the mixed emotions between then and now.
This was just the beginning as I am a wonderer, always in different places. I grew up in low class neighborhood which back then was the edge of the city and through out the years I changed homes moved into a different neighborhoods and different communities which I think gave me a very solid understanding of the complex rapidly expanding city.
Khartoum now is a mixture of different worlds, a low-built, sprawling city, with strange sprit depending on where you go, culturally divide but we people of Khartoum do not acknowledge that. And a lot more.