Died of Hunger and Cold on a Cairo Road: Khartoum Remembers Multitalented Artist Bahnas

Died of Hunger and Cold on a Cairo Road:  Khartoum Remembers Multitalented  Artist Bahnas

Azzam's portrait of Bahanas (Photo credit: Funoon al-Khalij Newspaper)

KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - Fate would not allow multi-talented Mohammad Hussain Bahnas (42) time to see his portraits put for public display in a gallery after he died of hunger and cold on the pavement of one of Cairo’s roads three and a half years ago.

This is the general mood in this Sudanese Capital about the tragic death of one of the country’s talented artists after some of his closest friends tried to revive his memory with a show of his works.

Bahnas had won the attention of the World in his death more than he could win it during his life. His tragic death has availed the daily press and other news outlets with a rich material that abruptly put his name on the lips of those who knew him and those who never knew him before.


Mourned by Arts Community:

Many intellectuals, novelists, writers and poets in Sudan, Egypt, Jordan, Algeria and Tunisia were so moved by the death of a man of such an enormous artistic value, whether they knew him personally or not. They wrote eulogies on their Face Book pages in which some of them described his death as “a tragedy and a shame.”

Young Egyptian Novelist Saeed Shahata has predicted that the newspapers “would tomorrow tell us that the novel of Bahnas- the martyr of cold and hunger- would be published by this or that publishing house… And that such and such a group would organize an exhibition of his paintings.”

“Pals…why did you not have mercy for him when he was shivering with cold  in the streets of Cairo?’’ Shahata further wondered.

Algerian novelist Ahlam Mosteghanemi wrote an article about Bahnas’s tragedy in which she said “On the road of negligence fell the Sudanese poet Mohammad Bahnas, allowing ice to shroud him in the cold roads of Cairo. He trusted the kindness of ice, preferring it to a life where he should beg for a warm corner in the hearts of aliens. An honorable death in which he does not stretch a begging hand to others, a hand that knew no use other than playing music and writing poetry.”

Mosteghanemi tells Bahnas ”I had never read anything for you, never had I heard about you but today I became too little when you died of hunger on the cold pavement of Arabism ... All my words are shivering with cold in the cemetery  of conscience at your neglected grave, you noble Sudanese.”

Iraqi plastic painter Ismael Azzam had immortalized Bahnas with a portrait he put on display at the Katara arts city, Qatar, in 2015.  


About The Gallery: 

The gallery of Basnas’s portraits was organized at the historical Baba Costa Café in Central Khartoum. Café Manager Omar Yahya al-Fadli tells Sudanow that Mohammad Hussain Bahnas was one of the customers of the Café, known for its concern with culture and artistic activities. ”That is why the Café had contributed to this event in memory of this great artist,” said Fadli.

He said the gallery had attracted people interested in the arts who thronged the Cafe for ten days in order to see some of the works that could be reached of the late Bahnas.

Fadli said the portraits were collected by Bahnas’s friends, artists Waleed Ismael Hassan and Mohammad Elhami, from under the rubble of his room “that, like its owner, collapsed under the heavy burden of suffering.”

“Plastic artists Hassan and Elhami had continued to restore Bahnas’s portraits in which Bahnas reflected his personal suffering and psychological struggles, for about a year,’’ added Fadli.

The gallery had attracted a wide media hype where local and regional newspapers gave it a good coverage. The Dubai-based al-Arabiyya TV channel also broadcast a report about it.

Artist Elhami said in a published report that much of Bahnas’s painting was lost in Egypt and France. “What was put on display was what we found in his room. These works reflect the artist’s life up from the 1980s, through which he painted himself, his experiences and his perspectives. We found wall paintings, portraits and a variety of other works,” said Elhami.

“The tragedy of Bahnas is a result of psychological struggles. He drew many painful portraits. There is a portrait of his French wife he divorced and who might have been part of his crisis,’’ Elhami said.

Elhami further said Bahnas was “a case of rebellion and rejection of all that is traditional ... all that shackles human freedom. He was eager for knowledge, so he went to France, Germany and Ethiopia, displaying his art in all those countries. He was looking for a human identity rather than a geographical identity.”

Bahnas displayed a gallery at the Addis Ababa University’s school of arts.

Some of his paintings he put on display in Paris now decorate the Elysee Palace, according to an Aljazeera Net report.

He took part in a seminar that brought together 50 African artists in Germany in 2002.

He also set an exhibition for light painting in Southern France.

He always used to say that “my philosophy is that we should live a real democracy that brings happiness to the world. He was a sportsman and he used to say that ‘there is no glory without giving,’ said Elhami.

Bahnas was multi-talented. Besides his excellent painting, he was a novelist. In 1999 he published his novel ”Raheel”  that drew the attention of critics both at home and abroad. In addition, he was a poet, a guitarist, a singer and a photographer.

According to reports published following his tragic death he was adversely affected by his banishment by the French authorities after he fell out with and divorced his French wife from whom he fathered a son. Back to Khartoum he suffered the shock of his mother’s death. He travelled to Cairo two years before his death where he set a plastic paintings exhibition and an exhibition of pictures reflecting African culture and folk art. Then he fell into depression, aimlessly roaming the streets of Cairo, living in plazas and sleeping in front of restaurants.

Bahns, 2011

So, Bahnas is gone this way. But his departure has sure lit a candle that will continue to illuminate the path of the generation of young artists who arranged his exhibition of paintings and who decided to launch an organization to help young artists in need of help to exhibit their works in painting, novel and poetry. Those upcoming young talents would be availed  opportunities and capabilities to show their work, in memory of a versatile artist who knocked  the doors of the arts, mastered them, but could not receive due care,  states the owner of Baba Costa Café, Fadli.




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