Tahia Halim was one of the foremost modern Egyptian female artists, exploring fresh and alternative depictions to themes that include war, rebellion, revolution, poverty and uprisings. She is most known for her authentic scenes depicting the rural daily life and folk customs in Southern Egypt and Northern Sudan. Through her paintings, she celebrated the traditional heritage of the Nubian people as seen in the present example painted in 1975. Between 1960 and 1961 however, Halim, amongst many other artists, was invited to spend some time in Nubia before the Aswan High Dam project was to flood the Nubian lands and displace several hundreds of thousands of people. Halim's exposure to the Nubians before their migration inspired her later period and continued to be a recurring subject matter in her paintings up until her death.
In this painting, the man invites the viewer into his space, showing his rababa in one hand, and the bow in the other. Leaves and pots frame the figure in earthy shades, rendering the already striking cobalt blue of his galabiyya even more so by the stark contrast in shading. The man’s regard and posture indicate his earnest and welcoming character. He may have modest surroundings, but his passion and creativity are felt through his vibrant clothing and careful presentation of his instrument, which he holds close to his body, indicating the comfort it provides him. The painting is alive in a simple and powerful way - the leaves are growing, the man is breathing and the silence buzzes, waiting for the music to finally play. The profile and frontal view of the figure is reminiscent of the portraits decorating the walls of ancient Egyptian Frescoes, Assyrian panels and Coptic art. In that way, Halim sacralised the image of an unknown peasant and gave him a place in history.
Despite coming from a privileged family, Halim glorified the Nubian people through her paintings, yet as a woman artist living in British-colonised Egypt, she was never inclined to reflect the style of noble Europe in her works. Moving away from the European influences, her style was immersed in the Egyptian identity and folk culture and influenced by events such as the Suez crisis in 1956. She also sought her own national identity and her own place within a male and foreign dominated society.