Salih Basheer’s dreamlike images explore home, belonging and loss

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Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a selection of emerging image-makers, chosen from a list of nearly 500 nominations. Collectively, these 15 talents provide a window into where photography is heading, at least in the eyes of the curators, editors, agents, festival producers and photographers we invited to nominate. Throughout the next few weeks, we are sharing profiles of the 15 photographers, originally published in the latest issue of BJP, delivered direct through thebjpshop.com

Whether he is documenting personal loss, people fleeing persecution, or youth protests, Sudanese photographer Salih Basheer’s work is poignant in both its outcome and approach

Salih Basheer’s dreamlike images have an air of nostalgia and melancholy. “I live in the past and in my memories… sometimes it is exhausting,” says the Sudanese photographer. “When I am in a melancholic state of mind, it’s a big source of inspiration for me.” 

In Basheer’s work, the meaning of home and belonging are recurring themes. He lost both his parents at the age of three and moved in with his grandmother. He recalls this time as painful, feeling like he didn’t belong “here or there”. 

After finishing high school in Khartoum, he moved to Egypt to study geography at Cairo University. The feeling of loneliness not only lingered but grew more profound. “There is a quote by James Baldwin that says, ‘You don’t have a home until you leave it and then, when you have left it, you never can go back.’ This is it,” explains Basheer.

From the series Blue: Children of January. © Salih Basheer.
From the series Blue: Children of January. © Salih Basheer.

During his studies in the Egyptian capital, Basheer taught himself photography. He had been fascinated by the medium since looking at his uncle’s old photographs, and began taking photos on his phone. After he graduated, he studied photojournalism at the Danish School of Media and Journalism, finishing in 2021.

“At the start of my photography career, most of my work was street photography,” he recalls. “At some point, I felt a need to express myself more through the medium and that is when I started my first long-term project, Sweet Taste of Sugarcane [2017–ongoing]. It explores my memory of brotherhood and the time I spent studying in the Quranic school when I was a kid.”

In 2018, Basheer started his series The Home Seekers. The work reflects on discrimination in Cairo, and tells the story of ‘Ali’ and ‘Essam’ – two Sudanese men who emigrated to Egypt, fleeing persecution in their home country for a better life only to be faced with hardships once again.

The photographer Tasneem Alsultan, who nominated Basheer, says: “During the protests in Sudan, Salih went back to his home country [in 2019] and covered the capital city of Khartoum differently to the other photographers. His images were evocative, without the need of a headline.” Alsultan describes the work as “poignant, serene, quiet and, at times, uncomfortable”. “Salih wants us viewers to feel the awkwardness and discomfort of the spaces he’s in. He quietly moves in and out of spaces that are moody and heavy with emotion.” 

From the series The Home Seekers. © Salih Basheer.

The Home Seekers is ongoing, and Basheer is working on a new chapter, Is This Home, following Essam’s story to Sweden. Essam’s grandmother offered him safety and security in her Sudanese home when he was rejected from society for being gay, but after her death, he was expelled from his family. “He thought he would find a tolerant society in Cairo but that was not the case. He thought of returning to Sudan, but finally his request to resettle in Sweden was accepted,” says Basheer. 

The photographer is also working on two new projects: 22 Days In Between and Blue: Children of January. The former ruminates on memory and loss, and won Basheer the W Eugene Smith Student Grant in 2021. “I wanted to make a body of work that would allow me to learn more about my family and serve as a way to heal from the trauma of losing parents,” he says. Blue: Children of January is about the ongoing Sudan revolution that began in December 2018, with a focus on the youth. It questions the country’s history with military coups and how they affect Sudan today and in the future. 

Emi Eleode

Emi Eleode is a freelance writer, creative and founder of the educational instagram art page Art History Talks. She mostly writes about arts and culture, focusing on societal issues such as race and inequality and the effects of capitalism, colonialism and globalisation, not just in the west but also in postcolonial societies. Her words have appeared in The Art Newspaper, The British Journal of Photography, AnOther magazine, Artsy, Crafts magazine, Industrie Africa and more.