25 November 2019

A Metaphorical Island Between Algeria and Sudan

25 November 2019 - Written by PhMuseum

Using a diaristic approach to portray his life experiences and random people he has encountered, Abdo Shanan invites viewers to reflect upon wide-ranging, general concepts surrounding identity, heritage, and nationality.

“In one cubic meter of Algerian soil you can find the blood of Phoenicians, Berbers, Carthaginians, Arabs, Turks, Romans, the French, Maltese, Spanish, Jews, Italians, Yugoslavs, Cubans, Corsicans, Vietnamese, Angolans, Russians, Pied Noir, Harki… this is the big family of the Oranges.” Aziz Chouaki.

I was born in Algeria to a Sudanese father and Algerian mother. When I was nine we moved to Libya where I spent 18 years of my life convincing myself that I was Algerian, while my father kept trying to convince me that I was only Sudanese. In 2009, at the age of 28, I decided to make Algeria my home and it was then that I realised that I’m not only Algerian, but I’m Sudanese and Libyan as well. I’m all three of these nationalities and none of them at the same time. Living in Algeria I began to feel like I was an island in the middle of a society with which I didn’t have as much in common as I thought I did.

How is it possible for an island to exist in the middle of an ocean? Is it because the island’s dry soil is strong enough to impose itself against the ocean, or is it that the merciful ocean tolerates the existence of the island? Maybe it is a relationship of compromise where both sides slightly renounce their claims in order to co-exist. I’m interested in how particular environments can influence our identity. Dry is not just about me. It’s also about many other “islands” I’ve met like me. Like Eze, for whom the city of Oran was a home. He always referred to himself as Oranese when asked where he is from, a few months ago he was deported by Algerian security forces to Nigeria through the desert; or Lamia, who left Algeria for France at age six, but visited each summer until she became a woman, and her relationship with society became more complex, and so she stopped coming; or M’mmar who has lived in France for 45 years and when I asked him if he would come to live in Algeria he said he couldn’t because it was tough, but that he wanted to die and be buried in Algeria… because it is good to die there”.

With Dry, I want to make you feel uncomfortable, uneasy, and even guilty. I want you to doubt what you’ve been told about who and what is Algerian and I want you to question the idea of nationality, even your own nationality, for what is nationality anyway?

Words and Pictures by .


Abdo Shanan is a visual artist based in Algiers, Algeria. In 2012, he undertook an internship at Magnum Photos Paris, which gave him the opportunity to reflect upon his photographic approach. In 2019 Shanan both won The CAP Prize for his ongoing project Dry and was selected for the Joop Swart Masterclass organised by World Press Photo. Find him on PHmuseum and Instagram.


This feature is part of Story of the Week, a selection of relevant projects from our community handpicked by the PHmuseum curators.

Selected by


Reading time

4 minutes

Support PhMuseum Journalism

Since 2012 PhMuseum's articles have always been free and without ads. Every year we work to keep you informed and invite you to discover the work of hundreds of photographers. If you enjoy reading us, this can be a nice way to give back and support our independent organisation, granting us more means to increase the quality and number of contents. Thank you!