BAHM: 2.28.17 Ibrahim El-Salahi
Ibrahim El-Salahi is a Sudanese painter, a founding member of the “Khartoum School” movement and considered one of the most significant figures in African and Arab Modernist Art. Born in Omdurman, Sudan in 1930, he studied at his father's Qur'anic School where he learned Arabic calligraphy, an important feature of his work. He studied at the School of Design at Gordon Memorial College (now University of Khartoum) and then, on government scholarship at the Slade School of Fine Art in London from 1954-57, where he was exposed to the formal and ideological underpinnings of Western Modernism. After working in the Sudanese Embassy in London, El-Salahi returned to Sudan to serve as Deputy under Director of Culture during the Gaafar Nimeiry regime until he was imprisoned for six months without charge for ties to an attempted coup. He later self-exiled to Doha, Qatar before settling in Oxford, England. In 2013, the Tate Modern in London featured their first major retrospective dedicated to an African artist, curated by Salah M. Hassan, Ibrahim El-Salahi: A Visionary Modernist.
After returning home, he exhibited a number of works done while attending the Slade School, that were promptly rejected for their incoherence with Sudanese visual culture, which led El-Salahi on a brief hiatus from painting in order to travel the country and resituate himself within his heritage. This is when he started incorporating symbols and markings of Arabic inscriptions, then Arabic calligraphy which later became abstract animal, human and plant forms. Between 1958 an 1961, the use of Arabic symbols and calligraphy became more pronounced, even as he explored a number of Western styles, evoking a transnational, African-influenced Surrealism. As El-Salahi further explored the use of Arabic symbols to create amorphic, organic forms, an aesthetic known as hurufiyya, he cemented the visual language of the “Khartoum School”, which would be the driving force in redefining a post-Independence Sudanese artistic tradition. It is not coincidence that this visual movement was linked with Sudan’s Independence in 1956, and as Salah Hassan has stated, “the African modernist project has existed in the intersections of Pan-Africanism and Pan-Arabism, the struggle for liberation and decolonization, and in the intellectual dialectics these struggles have come to symbolize in the relationships among Africa, the West, and the world.”
Frieze Article: Here & There: Tate Modern and African Art
Guggenheim Abu Dhabi: "Understood and Counted": A Conversation with Ibrahim El-Salahi
The Culture Trip Article: Ibrahim El-Salahi: Painting in Pursuit of a Cultural Identity