Zeina: A Photo Iconography

Zeina Icons Collection 2007 - © Issraa El-Kogali
Blue Window, Wawa, Northern State, Sudan. 2007 from Zeina Iconography Collection


Zeina: adj. good or beautiful in northern Sudanese dialects of Arabic

When the word “Sudan” is heard one seldom thinks of anything but photos of Darfur from international media with the bleak images of dry land and women wrapped in multi coloured toubs at IDP camps. There are a few who may think of palm trees, or the River Nile. But there is a definite lack of visual references of Sudan as a whole. Following this line of thought I was inspired to go in search of Sudanese cultural icons beginning with the northern region of Sudan. The region has been written about for historical reasons such as the long trip south for the British infantry during the Mahdist revolution and the significance of Dongola “city on the bend of the Nile” as a half way point between Upper Egypt and Khartoum.

In 2007-2008, I initiated and completed Zeina: A Photo Iconography, which successfully identified and introduced positive visual icons of the Northern State in Sudan. This major undertaking further solidified my commitment to building my career as a Sudanese photographer. Zeina, a collection of symbols and portraits, represents the Northern State known as “Alshamaliya” in its current day while honouring its ancient Nubian heritage.

The project resulted in a week-long exhibition at the Waterloo Gallery, London, in April 2008, a two-week exhibition at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London (UCL), in May 2008, and a one-day exhibition at the Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, in May 2008. My exhibitions were publicised in London publications such as Time Out, the Evening Standard, and by the respective venues.  The exhibitions in London targeted audiences with a general interest in Sudan as well as those who have lived and worked there, including the Sudanese diaspora. In December 2008 the collection was exhibited at Universal Cafe’s gallery in Khartoum.

Click here to view a slide show of Zeina-Icons



I am a Sudanese artist working with art installations, photography, film, mixed media, writing and spoken word. My art work has been shown in Brazil, Egypt, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, Korea, Nigeria, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the USA, since I began my career in Sudan in late 2003. "In Search of Hip Hop", my first film, won official selection at Rotterdam and Dubai film festivals in 2013. I'm currently a contributing editor of Agave an online magazine and writing for film, while I prepare for upcoming exhibitions of Nora's Cloth during the winter of 2013/2014. Nora's Cloth is an Ibsen Scholarship award winning project (2011).

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