Mohamed Bahnas, a dear friend, talented painter, poet and musician, froze to death this week on Cairo's streets, homeless, and isolated but from the clutter of contradictions that kept his mind ever alert. Born in Omdurman in 1972, Bahnas found refuge in artistic expression from an early age. The profession he sought most though was life itself. He chased it in the 'araki' quarters of Khartoum, the mosques of Omdurman, the conversations of the tired intellectuals of the capital, the glare of Paris and Berlin, in the company of friends and the faces of strangers.
In the meantime, he painted profusely, wrote fresh poetry in a language made from the chatter of the streets turned into eloquent verse with a purpose, he cursed, made friends and enemies, disgusted many, and broke a few hearts. A 'malamati' of his age, Bahnas cycled restlessly between beliefs, convictions and fragmentary philosophical notions without ever finding a mental home as it were.
The last time I saw Bahnas was in December 2012. He sat at a distance from the loud crowd of the Goethe Institut's cafeteria in Khartoum drawing a self-portrait. We exchanged the usual greetings and then drifted into a full-blown discussion of 'Islamic' morality. He had just returned from a lengthy 'khalwa' committed to a form of mystical belief that he could not well explain. He corrected his sentences as he spoke unsatisfied with the shadows cast by his words, dropping one for a close synonym as he explored clarity in vain. Failing to reach consensus we exhanged jokes, laughed and drank the habitual teas of Khartoum's evenings as old friends just do. All the while he added a line and another to his drawing.
The self-portrait I did not see completed, but I suppose he has just delivered his last drawing to the world, his own body flung on a Cairo street, resting forever in the cold of night. I have only words to mourn you ya my friends, farwell.