Salih Basheer gathers memories from before his parents’ death

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In his debut photobook – the first-ever publication by a Sudanese photographer – Basheer revisits memories of his parents, who died when he was three years old

Picture a small red book that could fit in your back pocket. You open it and find an eclectic mix of images and writing: some family archive photos, some childlike drawings, and a personal log written both in English and Arabic. The text records details of the author’s grandmother’s Grewia tenax tree, or the few memories he has of his parents, who died when he was only three years old.

This pocket-sized book may at first appear to be little more than a personal diary. But in reality, it is the first photo book of the young and talented Sudanese photographer Salih Basheer – one of BJP’s Ones to Watch in 2022 – titled 22 Days in Between and printed by Danish independent publisher Disko Bay.

The title is the first photo book to ever be published by a Sudanese photographer – a fact that saddened Basheer when he learned it’s taken this long for it to happen. “I hope this will be the start of more books to come in the future,” he says. But why has it taken so long for a Sudanese photographer to publish a book on the international scene? Ala Kheir, one of Sudan’s most prominent photographers, and one of the founders of the Sudanese Photographers Group in Khartoum in 2009, said that the almost 30-year-rule of Omar al-Bashir from 1993 to 2019 stifled much of the arts industry and creative aspirations of many Sudanese people. But things are starting to change, and opportunities are broadening for the younger generation, particularly since al-Bashir’s ousting in 2019 during the Sudanese revolution.

“Photography is one of the fields to suffer a lot during modern history in Sudan, and although there are a few photography books about Sudan, this is so far the first photo book to be published by a Sudanese photographer,” says Kheir. 

A book of such importance couldn’t have come from a more personal project. Basheer specifically chose this small pocket-sized format for it to feel like his own notebook. “The book has a double meaning,” he explained, “it’s personal in the content and in the form.”

Basheer, a 28-year-old self-taught photographer, has been dreaming about publishing a photo book since he first picked up a camera six years ago. His eye for poignant and dreamlike images as well as his gritty visual style – often shot in black-and-white – has earned him international acclaim. Among his accolades, he’s exhibited in major cities across Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and received grants from the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, Everyday Projects. Most recently, he received the prestigious W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund student grant for this project that is now a photobook.

22 Days in Between refers to the number of days that separate the deaths of Basheer’s mum and dad, when he was only three in Sudan. His mum died of an unknown illness, and a few weeks later his dad was trying to break off a street fight and got hit on the head by a large wooden stick. He died in hospital five days later.

Basheer is the youngest of five children, so mostly learned about his parents through his siblings and grandparents. He was so young when his parents died that he isn’t sure if the memories he has of them are even real. “All my memories are without faces,” he says.

This photo book is ultimately Basheer’s attempt to remember his past, to recollect the few memories he has of his parents. This introspective narrative is explored through various formats: personal writing, self-portraits, archive images, and drawings that Basheer drew recently but from the perspective of a child – to uphold the idea that he is still a kid longing to bond with his parents.

But although this diary-like photo book may initially appear from a childlike perspective, it is far beyond its nascent stage. Instead, this book resonates through the author’s raw images and the powerful ownership of his vulnerability.

Even as Basheer speaks today, it remains difficult for him to discuss the loss of his parents. Some scars will never heal. But Basheer said that “this project helps a little bit, because three years ago I couldn’t have this conversation at all. It’s a constant healing process.”

22 Days Between by Salih Basheer (Disko Bay) is out now

Alexander Durie

Alexander Durie is a multimedia journalist, writer, and photographer based between London and the Mediterranean region. His work touches on social and political issues related to identity, culture, displacement, memory, and human rights. He currently works full-time for The New Arab, producing short films and writing features focused on the MENA region. He has freelanced for The Guardian, Al Jazeera, The Economist, The Financial Times, The Independent, and more, contributing dispatches from Paris and Berlin to Beirut and Warsaw. He also writes non-fiction essays and poetry, and his photos have been exhibited in London, Dubai, Berlin and Tangier.