Nja Mahdaoui, a double membrane drum

Tunisia, 20th century AD

This drum is decorated by Nja Mahdaoui (born 1937), one of Tunisia's leading contemporary artists. He has travelled and exhibited his works in Asia, America, Africa and Europe. His work is based on the shapes associated with Kufic script but devoid of actual textual meaning. Famous for his meticulous work in ink on parchment, Mahdaoui stresses the visual impact of his compositions, which he refers to as 'calligrams' ('beautiful writing'). He also produces bold and dynamic work using paper (of which there are examples in the British Museum), wood, aluminium, brass and melamine. Tunisian cultural traditions, such as textile arts, are a rich source of inspiration.

Religious festivals, ceremonies and spontaneous public events in Tunisia are usually accompanied by musical performances which include both vocal and percussion elements. Mahdaoui is a lover of contemporary African music and dance and frequently performs with poets, musicians and dancers in these musical happenings.

This drum is played with two wooden beaters, which are suspended from the shoulder by a leather belt when in use. Drums of this type vary in size from 40 to 70 cm in diameter; this large drum is similar to those played on Jerba and the Kerkenna Islands.

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Nja Mahdaoui, a double membrane drum

  • View from opposite end

    View from opposite end


More information


R. Issa, Signs, traces, calligraphy: fi (Barbican Centre, London and Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam, 1995)

J. Hudson, Artists and artisans, perspect (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)


Diameter: 67.000 cm

Museum number

AOA 1998.Af3.1

not found on MERLIN


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