LAWRENCE – The image of a Sudanese woman standing atop a car demanding the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir that went viral this week, drawing comparisons to Nubian queens and the Statue of Liberty, may have been the tipping point in this phase of the revolution, according an historian of Sudanese women’s fashions.
“Her choice of clothing – her white cotton tobe and circular gold earrings – is understood as the national dress, so she represents everywoman,” says University of Kansas Associate Professor of History Marie Grace Brown, author of “Khartoum at Night: Fashion and Body Politics in Imperial Sudan,” (Stanford University Press, 2017).
“Precisely because it is understood as the national garment, the woman who has been identified as Alaa Salah is insisting that she is not an outsider fomenting revolution, but that these are authentic Sudanese demands.”
Brown says the speed with which Salah’s image went viral speaks to the iconoclasm of women acting out in Sudanese politics.
“When women enter and make demands in the public space, it makes the political tangible,” Brown said. “It’s something that affects them. This phase of the revolution began in December with a hike in the price of bread, which is a domestic issue; a women’s issue.”
Brown said that even though Bashir appears to have been toppled in a military coup today, Salah’s image retains its power.
“The revolution is not over, nor has the importance of this image declined,” Brown said. “The demands that Salah and others have called for remain to be addressed. She issues a challenge to the military council that the government they implement listen to women’s voices and protect women’s interests.”
To interview Marie Grace Brown about how fashion has reflected the changing roles of women in Sudanese society, contact Rick Hellman, 785-864-8852, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: This photo of Alaa Salah leading a protest in Khartoum and posted to Twitter April 8 by Lana H. Haroun (@lana_hago) went viral.