New Book on South Sudan is out now

June 16, 2024

I’m thrilled to announce that the book “South Sudan: The Identity of the World’s Youngest Country” is out! It’s available HERE with worldwide shipping.

The project that began in South Sudan in 2012 has now become a book. Over the last decade, I have studied the concept of identity in the world’s youngest country, born from the ashes of 40 years of war with Sudan, exploring how ongoing crises have deeply influenced its culture and traditions. To what extent have conflicts, forced migrations, and climate emergencies shaped the ancestral and identity values of South Sudan? What does war leave behind after decades of violence?

Ten years of work plus one of editing and publishing have led me to this moment, where I can now smell the paper and hear the sound of printing machines. I am grateful to all the people I have met along the way, who have helped turn this dream into an incredible publishing project. Special thanks go to Dario Cimorelli and his editorial team, Joan Roig, friend and post-producer, Andrea Tinterri, Dario Fanelli, and Carol Berger, anthropologist and writer. It’s not often you receive this kind of support and complete expressive freedom, but when it happens, everything tastes different, and magic occurs.

This book comprises 180 pages with 91 black and white and color photographs, printed in trichrome and quadrichrome, along with 5 field reports. The rest, you’ll discover on your own. ✨

 

From the forward by Carol Berger

Fabio Bucciarelli’s South Sudan: The Identity of the World’s Youngest Country provides a record of the human costs of war, and of the remarkable strength of peoples who face great challenges in their journey to build a new nation. There are also moments of joy and beauty.
To be a witness to the unfolding of history requires patience and focus. It is one thing to be present; it is another to create something tangible from moments of crisis, or repose, in the lives of others. There may be linguistic challenges and awkward attempts to adapt to unfamiliar social mores. Then there is the matter of logistics. How, in a country where there are few roads, can a photographer reach his destination? And what are the ethics of photographing people whose world is not your own?
The photographer may see his role as helping to bring more awareness to an unfolding tragedy. Or perhaps it is wiser to see the work of a photographer as merely showing respect for lived experience. The event witnessed and captured by the photographer, no more than a moment in time, may well have consequences for the subjects of the photograph for months, if not years, ahead. But those are other moments, still to be experienced in an unknown future. At its essence, the act of taking a picture acknowledges the commonality of lived experience.

Bucciarelli’s images were taken over a decade, from 2012 to 2022. Between those years, South Sudan experienced seismic changes. In 2011, after the end of the 23-year North-South civil war, independence from Sudan was achieved. But just two years later, in December 2013, the world’s youngest country descended into a civil war. In the years since the diverse peoples of South Sudan have retreated into ethnic enclaves. Well-armed, dominant groups prey on the less powerful for land and resources. Peace agreements have been brokered with the help of regional interests, but the terms of those agreements remain unfulfilled. Millions of South Sudanese are displaced inside the country, and millions more live as refugees in neighbouring states.

The wider region’s stability has also faltered. Ethiopia saw a brutal war be- tween 2020 and 2022 in the northern province of Tigray. As many as 600,000 Tigrayans were killed in a conflict that saw Eritrea join forces with the Ethiopian state against the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front. In April 2023, only months after Tigray and the Ethiopian state struck a ceasefire agreement, war broke out in Sudan, sending hundreds of thousands of people across the border into South Sudan. Libya has been split into two after a six-year civil war that ended in a ceasefire in 2020, the two main groups fighting for power each claiming a part of the country. There are signs that Sudan may face the same fate. The now two-year conflict shows no sign of abating, and there are fears that the fighting will spill over into South Sudan. The entire region – from northern Ethiopia in the east to Libya in the west – is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in several generations.
In a time of turmoil and uncertainty, Bucciarelli’s images remind us of the moments that make up a life. The battered backboard of a basketball hoop rises like a totem above a flooded area, its court submerged beneath muddy waters. Girls and boys once played matches there, before the rising waters and war sent people moving on foot to higher ground. In recent years, flooding in parts of South Sudan, particularly in the traditional lands of the Nuer people, has reached unprecedented levels. The apparent outcome of climate change, the flooding further imperils people whose survival as a community is already tenuous. The worst-affected areas are those where ethnicised conflict led by the state and militarised groups, dating from late 2013, has forced people to leave their homes in search of safety.
A celebrated wrestler, his face decorated with white ash, strikes a grave pose as he sits for a portrait after a hard-fought match. Sunset falls on a displaced-persons camp filled with ramshackle, tarp-covered shacks: in the foreground, two thin boys watch the photographer, and in the distance stands a beautiful and heavily pregnant woman in a shimmering gold-co- loured dress.

In another image, a woman kneels over the body of her husband. She raises her arms in anguish. He has died from cholera. The water-borne disease is a threat to people living in crowded camps and without access to clean water. Cholera can strike down an otherwise healthy person within hours. The scene takes place inside a crude structure that serves as a clinic. The walls are plastic tarps covering a frame of long wooden poles. The floor is of beaten mud. Around the widow, all eyes are upon her: a seated man lifts his hands in prayer; the face of a barefoot woman holding a baby is etched with pain. Some images do not include people, but speak to lived reality: a storeroom filled with Kalashnikov rifles, heavy guns, mortars, and sacks of grain. Firepower and food: the basic necessities for South Sudan’s militarised actors.
Bucciarelli travelled extensively – by air, land, and water – between the states of Unity, Warrap, and Lakes. The regions are home to the two largest ethnic groups in South Sudan, the Nuer (Naath) and Dinka (Jieng), the peoples who have been locked in conflict for the past decade. Bucciarelli boarded planes and helicopters to cross the expanse that is South Sudan, took Land Cruisers on dangerous roads where rebel forces may lie in wait, and stepped into dugout canoes helmed by tall men. In his journeys, he captured moments of grace and wonder, but also pain and bereavement.

In 2012, he went to the town of Bentiu, the capital of Unity State, near the border with Sudan. There he photographed inside a divisional headquarters of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the rebel force that fought the decades-long war against northern Sudan. It was renamed the South Sudan Defence Forces (SSDF) in 2017. Bucciarelli was there at a time of crisis, during clashes between the Sudanese army and forces of South Sudan. At issue was ownership of the oil fields that straddle disputed territory be- tween the two nations. That same year, Bucciarelli travelled to Turalei, War- rap State, where he joined worshippers, many of them newly returned from Sudan after South Sudan’s independence in 2011, for a Catholic church service under the trees. Not far from Mingkaman, two young men wearing white robes are baptised in the waters of the White Nile by pastors of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Their faces are sombre as they submit to an important rite of passage. Two years later, in 2014, Bucciarelli found a country much changed by the new civil war that had broken out in December 2013. He travelled to Mingkaman and Yirol in Lakes State, photographing the camps where displaced people had taken refuge. It was also in Lakes State that he captured moments of serenity in Dinka cattle camps. Long-horned cattle settle in for the night under the care of young herders after a day of grazing. The smoke of smoldering dung fires, used to deter mosquitoes, hangs over the bucolic scene. A photograph of a cattle herder with a Kalashnikov rifle, however, is a reminder of the threat of violence. Lakes State has seen recurrent spates of cattle raiding and killings for the past two decades. While the Dinka cattle camp has long served as an iconic symbol of South Sudan, the cattle herders have, like most communities in the country, been militarised. They follow the orders of the big men who claim ownership of the cattle, often important officials serving in the military and government.

South Sudan: The Identity of the World’s Youngest Country takes the reader into a time and space that is outside the lived experience of most people in the northern hemisphere. For this reason alone, the book is important. Bucciarelli has captured moments that resonate, that move the viewer. His photographs engender respect both for the act of bearing witness to the unfolding of history, and for those fated to make that history.