Interview with Antonio Cores Uria
By Nanne op ‘t Ende
October 22, 2006
Antonio Cores was born in San Fernando, Spain, in 1936. In 1976 he traveled to Africa with his wife and son. He stayed with the Nuba for a long time and made thousands of beautiful pictures. (See his website Sudan Exists.) He also made one of the most beautiful documentaries I ever saw, about the girls of Nyaro dancing for the bracelet fighters.
Antonio Cores Uria
I’m curious after your reasons to go to the Nuba Mountains. Was it romanticism? The desire to be among people unspoiled by modern life?
In general I find that seeing different landscapes every day and to getting to know and learning about different cultures, is the most motivating thing in life.
One of the earliest impressions that made me want to travel to Sudan especially was the film “The Four Feathers” (Las Cuatro Plumas). I saw it when I was thirteen years old and I was obsessed by it. The names of Khartoum, Umdurman and the Nile would be constantly going round in my head. I even came to dream (whilst awake) that I was General Gordon.
In 1971 I made a trip in a Toyota from Spain to the Congo River, where I put up a safari camp. I made excursions in Algiers, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and the Central African Republic. It took 19 days to reach the Congo River, and at each stop with the Tuareg, I left my heart behind with them in the Sahara Desert. I would need unlimited amounts of time to get to know them; to learn their language and to live closely with them, and yet that was my intention from that moment on.
In the township of Duruma I heard about a Humanitarian Aid camp near the border: hundreds of refugees would go there fleeing from Sudan’s seventeen year war and seeking help. They were Dinkas, Nuer, Taposa, Fur, Nubas etc. I was fascinated by them and as about 80% of these tribes were Niloticos, I started planning the trip to Nile.
So my principal motivation for the trip that took me to the Nuba Mountains was to see the Nile; to get to know the river and the surrounding tribes whose lives depend on it. I had seen some photos of the Nuba in the New York Library and this catapulted my search for them. It seemed to me that they represented the purity of a race. I finally came into contact with them in Nyaro.
How long were you in the Nuba Mountains all together?
I was there for 8 months in 1976, 4 months in 1979 and another 4 months in 1980. I spent some time in Burram, the village where my Nuba friend, Arriga Tia, lived. It was more like a small group of huts, situated on the north flank of Tangaru Mountain, 60 km. south of Kadugli, and 80 km. from Nyaro, where I stayed for most of the time. I travelled further south in Sudan and to other countries in Africa, but the experience in Nyaro has made the deepest impression. I found the Nyaro people to be the most pure; they were proud of their race and they were the tribe that survived with the least amount of external help.
You have seen your son growing up in Africa, playing with the Nuba children. Would you have wanted to grow up to become a famous wrestler?
No, it’s too hard a life to lead.
Ten years ago I saw a very poor copy of a documentary you made of the dancing girls of Nyaro. Even in the very bad state the images were in, they are among the most beautiful things I have ever seen…
That night, during the mating dance, each woman chose the man who would be the father of her future son. Previously she had observed closely as he fought to demonstrate his courage and strength and she had chosen him. Yes, I agree with you, it is the most beautiful theatrical expression I could ever imagine.
You have taken numerous photos of Nuba houses. Can you tell me more about this fascination?
I studied at the Barcelona School of Architecture for three years, but I was not too fond of numbers so I went to Paris and did the basic course in Professional Photography. During the 1960’s, ninety percent of my work as a professional photographer was with about a dozen architects from Madrid and Barcelona. At one time I visited thirty Greek Islands and covered the whole of the Mediterranean coast during a four months tour, commissioned by a Catalan Editor. I took hundreds of photographs of the Popular Architecture found there.
In 1966 you met Picasso. Some people draw comparisons between Picasso’s portraits and the way the Nuba in Nyaro paint themselves. Did you look at the body art of the Nuba in such a way?
Picasso showed me a collection of African masks, which in a way reminded me of the ones I saw in different African countries, but not especially to the Nubas. They are unique. The purpose of the body paintings is to impress the woman, to be more attractive, more artistic. Algor, from Nyaro, when he painted himself as a leopard would say “Ana nimer” (me leopard), he would say it with pride.
By now the Nuba no longer live this way…
Even at that time one could notice that they had problems: they were not allowed to come down from the mountains naked, and in 1980 all those who were caught doing so were transported to the sugar plantations on the Nile. I never published any photographs previous to the war in 1983, as we decided that to publish them would provoke an invasion of tourism which would destroy the Nuba. Actually I was approached by German companies asking me to take them on trips to the Nuba Mountains, offers which I never accepted.
The last time I was in the Nuba Mountains was in 1980. In 1984 and 1985 I was in the South on the Sue Yambio River; that area was already closed due to the fighting.
When I left, in the summer of 1980, there were around 15 boys who were called Babet, Ivan and Antonia, their masculine names have a feminine ending. [The Slovenian film maker] Tomo Kriznar told me that upon his arrival in the Mountains, hundreds of Nubas converged on him, hugging him and shouting “Antonio, Antonio”, thinking that it was me. In Tomo’s film you can hear a Nuba person telling him: ‘the Jihad (or something similar) the book’. He meant to say that Leni Riefenstahl’s book had been their destruction, because the problems began when this book reached Khartoum.
Leni Riefenstahl... how do you feel about her work?
I did not meet her personally, but I think that the work she did is extraordinary, if only for the fact that she reached the Nuba Mountains hitch-hiking, I believe that it is one of the hardest endeavours that a white person could accomplish in Africa. She left Kenya with a back-pack, crossed Uganda to Juba where a ship transported her to Malakal, and there, Dr. Bauer, the director of the Leper Hospital in Kau, found a skinny, hungry woman, who asked him if he could take her to Kau-Nyaru. The good Doctor changed direction from Bentiu, on the way to Wau, to take her to the Nuba Mountains. He gave her some money, food and medicines, and I quote what he told me: “I’ve never met a person stronger or with more courage than hers. It was the rainy season, and my Volkswagen van would get bogged down every little while in the mud, she would look for twigs and cut down branches and find poles with which to push…”
[In her book ‘the Nuba of Kau’, Riefenstahl mentions two visits to Kau-Nyaro: the first one, in January 1974, was a few days’ extension of a trip to the Nuba of Masakin Qisar; the second one was a well organised expedition that resulted in a four months’ stay, from December 1974 to April 1975. On both accounts she was accompanied by her partner Horst Kettner. NotE]
I can see you were much closer to the people than she was; specially in Kau and Nyaro, where Riefenstahl mainly used long focus lenses.
Leni spent most of her time in Kau; she was in Nyaro for only one week. when I came to Kau people didn’t mind if I wanted to take photos, as long as I paid ten Sudanese Pounds for a session. That’s what Leni used to pay. I didn’t want to work that way so we moved to Nyaro. When we arrived, the people chased me away and we set up camp a few miles from the village. After some time the boys from Nyaro started playing with my son and then the Nuba women came to bring milk to my wife. I didn’t take a single picture for the first three weeks, we were just trying to gain their confidence. Later I went on hunting trips with the men, we joined in the celebrations; we took care of the sick. Eventually people didn’t even notice the camera anymore.
At the moment you support a hospital in Kuyuria. How did you get involved in this project?
Awat Talodi, a Nuba from Dilling and a character you must meet, was sent to China as a boy, for having a privileged mind. There he was trained as a jet fighter pilot, as a specialist in radar and as an Airport Flight Controller. He left with 11 years of age and when he returned he had the rank of Captain and his first mission was to bomb his very own town. He returned to the airport and together with some other tribe-mates destroyed the planes, after many tortures he managed to escape, burying himself during the days and walking during the nights till he got to Chad. From there he went to Libya; from Libya to Palestine and from there to Egypt where the Spanish Embassy accepted him as a political refugee. He lives in Madrid and is married to a beautiful Spanish lady.
He earns his living as an Electrician and twice a year he returns to his village, taking with him the money donations which have been collected to pay for the windows, doors, roof, cement etc. of the Clinic Hospital we are building and maintaining. At present he is there, in Dilling, and can be contacted by phone. He has put up an antenna in the Nuba Mountains with which he can communicate with Europe. *
Will you go back again?
Of course I would like to return there, and I plan to do so, but at present I’m on Sudan’s Government’s black list.
Interviewed by email on October 29
* If you would like to help, we ask that you send donations directly to the doctor. See Antonio's website Sudan Existe for details.
The Nuba Mountains Homepage was made by Nanne op 't Ende.
You can contact me here.