“What Lasts! (Sarcophagus) is one part of a sculptural triptych that was born in the aftermath of opening up about my sexuality and being considered dead by some of my close family members. The ceramic sarcophagus is a celebration of my own death and a visual dictation of how my end can be. l protest against what I learnt as a child in Mecca: that gay people should be killed and are not worthy of a respectful end nor a funeral ceremony. On the top of the lid lies a full cast of my body in a peaceful prayer position, my head tilted to the right and my feet free and playful, like my personality in real life.”

Ahmed Umar’s sculptural rendering of his own sarcophagus (a stone coffin usually associated with Ancient Egypt) expresses the pain of oppression while also paying respect to the dead. His self-portrait blends autobiographical aspects of identity, personal experience and connections to the black pharaohs of the ancient kingdom of Kush (which was located at what is now the Sudanese and southern Egyptian Nile Valley), with contemporary prejudice and projected futures. Umar’s work is informed by his conservative upbringing in Mecca, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, and often highlights the repercussions of existing outside of social and cultural norms. He uses his personal experiences as a tool to discuss the silencing, demonising and compromising of queer lives.


  • Title: What Lasts! (Sarcophagus)
  • Creator: Ahmed Umar
  • Date Created: 2016
  • Location Created: Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
  • Physical Dimensions: 85 x 200 x 65 cm
  • Provenance: Presented at the 22nd Biennale of Sydney with generous assistance from the Office for Contemporary Art Norway. Courtesy the artist.
  • Type: sculpture
  • Rights: Biennale of Sydney
  • Medium: earthenware
  • Edition: 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020): NIRIN

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