April 14, 2010

Tahir Bushra

I met Tahir Bushra in Asmara in 1994. He was a Sudanese Nuban, and had moved to Asmara to be able to create his art in relative freedom. When I met him, he was making the most beautiful paintings I'd ever seen. Most were on wood. Some were the size of doors; others were barely a foot square. His materials were sand, shoe polish, white house paint, oil pastel, and ballpoint pen. Some of the symbols in his paintings are derived from Nuban body painting, scarification, and house decoration (see Leni Riefenstahl's The Last of the Nuba and People of Kau for wonderful examples). Others are taken from koujour, the Nuban shamanistic healing rituals.

Tahir was a strange, taciturn, wonderful person, prone to disappearing without warning. He either sold his paintings for exorbitant prices or gave them away. He was something of a legend among the artists in Sudan, and his style was enormously influential.

I later visited him in Addis Ababa, and traveled with him and an Australian friend to the Blue Nile Falls and Gondar. I heard rumors that he went to London, and then San Francisco. Unlike many of the other Sudanese artists I met, he seems to have little web presence. With the assistance of Ray Dirks, I have gathered here the few images I could find. I'm hoping that Google might bring Tahir aficionados to this post. If anyone out there knows anything about Tahir, please let me know . . .


According to the comments and emails I've received after posting this, Tahir is - or was until fairly recently - living in Iowa, and is still doing art (some of which incorporates chains!). You can see some blurry pictures here. Be sure to read the beautiful poem on Tahir by Abdulmuniem Rahmat Allah, and check out commenter Gassim Abdelkader's wonderful paintings on his website.


  1. Altahir Bushra- Thus He's Named

    Restive in body
    Never really you know:
    Withdrawing into his shadow
    Or multiplying unto his sun?
    He holds on waving hands- optic order-
    Exorcizing evil
    And falling into acts of suspicion
    Eyes gently soliciting
    With earth reposes
    Snatching colour in a twinkle of heart
    Him soul searchingly contemplate:

    A Poem By: Abdulmuniem Rahmat Allah
    [Translated by: Ibrahim Jaffar- 1995- revised on February 2007]


    I am his colleague and a friend of him, I think last time I have heard about him that he living in Ottumwa city there is some petroleum station some Mexican who knowing better in information in the area and then after you crossing a river if you ask I think you will find him a hope so
    m.o. al jack

    this link may help


  2. Dear Keith
    Thank you for this wonderful reflections on Tahir Bushra´s work.I was a close friend of him before we all migrated long time ago.His work has always been special, poetic and dramatic as the artist himself. I have been trying to get hold of Tahir since 1989 when I last saw him and I managed to get hold of a group of his former friends: Hassan Ahmmed Alnagar, Mohmaed Mahjoub, Ismail Abdulhafize Ibrahim and myself Gassim Abdelkader.
    Today I got to know that he is in Iawa in the US and Mahjoub has seen him few month ago :)

    I will let you know if I manage to get hold of him :)

    Best regards
    Gassim Abdelkader

  3. Dear Keith,
    I'm so glad I decided to google Tahir's name in the hope that I might find out any information about him. I too met him in Asmara in the early 90's and have been looking for him since he left. He is an incredible artist and his work is truly exquisite. I looked for information about him a long time ago but never found out much about his whereabouts. I feel blessed to have some of his pieces and will always remember him as an amazing and generous spirit. Thanks, Elsa.

  4. Hello Keith! I know this was written a while ago but my name is Seham Murad and Tahir is my older brother. Maybe we could get in touch to speak about him!

    1. Hi Seham - Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you! I'm afraid I don't spend much time checking my blog. I'd be very interested in what Tahir's up to. Feel free to email me at keithryanmiller@gmail.com

    2. I knew your brother. He was a angel in my life. I never got the chance to tell him thank you. He is saving the lives of me and my children.