World-renowned sculptor and longtime Hyde Parker Amir I. M. Nour, aged 84, died unexpectedly in his home. Nour’s work as an artist, teacher, and scholar has been recognized internationally and is recorded in books, journals and magazines. His sculptures have been exhibited throughout the United States and around the world including Germany, the U.K., Monaco, France, Cuba and the United Arab Emirates. Several pieces are on permanent display, including two pieces as part of the collection of the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C., and landscape sculptures in Morocco for UNESCO and one on the South Side of Chicago. Many of his smaller pieces are in private collections.
Nour is regarded as a pioneer of Contemporary African Art. Born in Shendi, Sudan, on April 26, 1936, Nour drew on his cultural legacies, Nubian history, and Afro-Islamic background, as well as his childhood experiences in Sudan. Combining these memories with his education in the west, Nour used a variety of modern industrial materials, including bronze, to express his aesthetic ideas. The Washington Post praised his work, writing that "it's voices like Nour's that lift themselves up above the commotion and sing a strong, clear solo."
In 1957 he received a diploma from the Khartoum School of Fine and Applied Art where he later taught from 1958-59 and 1963-65. Nour graduated from the Slade School of Fine Art, University of London, U.K. and followed with a postgraduate course in sculpture at the Royal College of Art, London. A Rockefeller Fellowship brought him to the United States in 1967, where he obtained a BFA and MFA from Yale University. For many years he taught art at the City Colleges of Chicago. In 2006, he took a leave of absence from Truman College and received a Ph.D. in African Art History from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
In 1971, Nour was recruited from Yale and settled in Hyde Park while he taught at City Colleges and lectured at many local and international universities. He married Ann Morrison (from Edinburgh, Scotland) whom he met as a student in London. Ann was a physical therapist at the Schwab Rehabilitation Institute, and in 1980, she became the Director of Rehab Medicine at Osteopathic Hospital in Hyde Park. Their daughter Amna graduated from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools in 1999, later following in her father’s footsteps to earn a postgraduate degree from St. Andrews.
According to his wife, Ann, he was “proud of his Sudanese heritage, that like a river flowed throughout his body and his mind, forever. From watching sheep returning from distant grazing in the desert, to abstracting an ancient Nubian wooden lock, it permeated his work.” She recalls his patience in both his research, art and life. “Amir was always searching with great diligence for more knowledge and understanding of the world around him. He was a proud and lovely family man.”
Most recently, a retrospective was organized by the Sharjah Art Foundation in 2017 in the United Arab Emirates. This in-depth survey of five decades of Nour’s work celebrated his role as an international figure not only within the African Art movement, but within global contemporary and modern art movements. While often referred to as a minimalist, Nour liked to say that Africans were minimalist long before it became a technique. The retrospective, “Brevity is the Soul of Wit,” is a loose translation of an Arabic proverb he used to describe his practice and its divergence with minimalist ideas. He often used geometric or hemispheric forms grounded in the context of history, the environment, and tradition. His work reflected his ability to integrate methods, techniques, forms and ideas drawn from his experience as a Sudanese living in the West.
Amna Nour points to the many books and articles that discuss her father’s significant and unique contribution to the art world. “Descriptions of his work almost always include the deep connection he had to his hometown of Shendi, and the importance and influence of his heritage and culture on his work and life,” she says. However, he also had a strong desire to give back and enable others to achieve, which was reflected in his teaching. “As a father he was so close and dear to me, there are no words that can express how precious and loved he was by his family. I believe he will be widely remembered for his work. But for those that knew him, his sense of humor, great spirit, zest for learning, and his immensely generous and kind heart are what we will miss.”
At the time of his death, he was retired but still creating sculptures. A memorial is planned for next spring.