Ibrahim El-Salahi – A Visionary Modernist

Posted filed underAfrica, Contemporary Art, Sudan.

Ibrahim El-Salahi
TateShots recently visited Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi in his Oxford studio. In 2013 Tate Modern will present the UK’s first major exhibition of El-Salahi’s work, bringing together 100 pieces from across more than five decades of his international career, this retrospective will highlight one of the most significant figures in African and Arab Modernism, and reveal his place in the context of a broader, global art history.

TateShots: Ibrahim El-Salahi

Artist Ibrahim El-Salahi discusses his work Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams 1 1962-3, a large-scale oil painting recently acquired by Tate.
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The exhibition at the Tate (3 July – 22 September 2013) traces the artist’s personal journey, beginning in Sudan in the 1950s where the artist originally trained and practiced as an art teacher, as well as his time at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. After this period of self-discovery, El-Salahi returned to his homeland and continued his pioneering integration of traditional African, Arab and Islamic visual sources with European art movements. This cross-pollination of cultures and traditions will be exemplified by such works as Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams 1 1962-3, a large-scale oil painting recently acquired by Tate through its Africa Acquisitions Committee.

Ibrahim El-Salahi

Events in the artist’s own life, as well as wider political history, are reflected in his work from the 1970s and 80s. While employed as the Undersecretary at the Sudanese Ministry of Culture and Information, El-Salahi was wrongfully imprisoned by the government. The art he made as a result of this incarceration was often stark and sombre, reflecting the trauma of isolation. This phase would culminate in years of self-imposed exile and expatriation in Qatar and the UK, where he created such works as The Inevitable 1984-1985, a monumental and chaotic response to the continued turmoil and civil war taking place in Sudan.

The exhibition also showcases the gloriously colourful paintings and drawings that El-Salahi has produced since the 1990s, after his return to England. These include his Tree Series, inspired by the Haraz tree that grows on the banks of the Nile, and One day I Happened to See a Ruler 2008, a major three-panel painting commissioned by the Museum for African Art in New York. These recent works reflect his joy for life, his deep spiritual faith, and a profound recognition of his place in the world.

Ibrahim El-Salahi Film by Ahmed A Rahman (2002)

Ibrahim El-Salahi was born in Omdurman, Sudan in 1930 and now lives and works in Oxford, England. His work has been shown at such venues as PS1, New York; Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha; and Haus der Kunst, Munich. He is represented in numerous private and public collections including the MoMA, New York; New National Gallery, Berlin; and Tate, London. He received the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship; the Order of Knowledge, Arts and Letters, Sudan; and the Honorary Award, Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development.

Ibrahim El-Salahi: A Visionary Modernist is organised by the Museum for African Art, New York, in association with Tate Modern, London. “It is curated by Salah M Hassan, Goldwin Smith Professor of African and African diaspora art history and visual culture and Director of the Institute for Comparative Modernities at Cornell University, and will be curated at Tate Modern by Elvira Dyangani Ose, Curator of International Art, Supported by Guaranty Trust Bank Plc The exhibition first opened at the Sharjah Museum of Art, Sharjah, in May 2012 and travelled to the Katara Cultural Village Foundation, Doha, Qatar in October 2012. An illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition, edited by Salah M Hassan with contributions by Sarah Adams, Hassan Musa and Chika Okeke.

- The Evening Standard: No. 11 Tree by Ibrahim Mohammed El Salahi, 2001 – “The Khartoum School, under the leadership of Ibrahim El Salahi, began to be recognised in the Sixties as an emergent modernist movement producing a distinctive means of expression known as Sudanawiyya — a synthesis of Western styles of art with other traditions, reflecting the remarkable ethnic, religious and cultural diversity of Sudan”
- New York Times: IBRAHIM EL-SALAHI: ‘From Time to Time’