“Sudan is not really a country at all, but many. A composite of layers, like a genetic fingerprint of memories that were once fluid, but have since crystallized out from the crucible of possibility” –  Jamal Mahjoub

Mishelle Brito  |  Ed Cristina Brooks   | 6 October 2020

Elnayal’s on-going interest in her hybrid identity and diasporic childhood, along with a career as an architectural designer, inspired her to create her latest project: ‘A Magic Realist Afrabia,’ a series of digital prints exploring multicultural identities, hybridity, and the “third space”. 

Looking at Sudanese author Tayeb Salih’s novel ‘Season of Migration to the North,’ for inspiration, Elnayal follows the main character Mustafa’s journey from Sudan to London and his struggle with his somewhat convoluted, contradicting and evolving ethnic identity in her work. Elnayal combines magic realist techniques taken from literature, art and photography – with her photo series exploring the Sudanese aesthetic to build a hybrid, urban, magic realist Afrabia.

But what exactly is ‘magic realism? It’s been called an ‘amalgamation of a rational and an irrational world view’ by author Amaryll Chanady. In essence, it combines ‘realism’ and ‘fantasy,’ creating what academic Maggie Ann Bowers called a mixture of opposing cultures and a third space. Popularly used by literary authors such as Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, magic realism uncovers the uncannies of everyday life. 

With the development of new technologies, magic realism seems to attract a large community of artists. While some ‘magic realists’ use symbols and allegory, many have relied on juxtapositions between objects, distortions of space, or hyperrealism to convey the mysteriousness of everyday life. By focussing on the everyday, instead of purely fantastical or made-up elements, contemporary artists create spaces that are universally understood.

In literature, most magic realist novels describe Eurocentric colonial powers. For Sudanese magic realists, another layer of colonial power that is Arab-centric is applied. This unique layering of colonial power allows them to explore magic realism in new ways. 

Elnayal applies this context for ‘magic realism,’ in the visualisation and concept of Afrabia. In Elnayal’s piece, magical realism is used with digital media to develop ideas and styles that resonate with a contemporary world.

Rayan Elnayal is a Sudanese-British artist-designer interested in multiculturalism in art and design. She uses the skills she obtained from her architecture background to speculate and visualise fictional spaces. She is interested in how magic realist techniques can aid in the production of ethnocentric futurisms in Sudan, the MENA region and its diaspora. Her work is heavily influenced by the novel ‘Season of Migration to the North’ by Tayeb Salih and the works of Ibrahim El Salahi. Her interest in magic realism and the idea of ‘Afrabia’ initially started as part of her architecture thesis project at the University of Greenwich and remains an on-going project. Rayan is currently working as an Architectural Assistant on Educational projects in the UK and Asia.

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