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Ibrahim El Salahi

Artist 246

Ibrahim El Salahi

African Modernism

Ibrahim El Salahi (born 1930) is a Sudanese painter, former public servant and diplomat. He is one of the foremost visual artists of the Khartoum School of African Modernism and the Hurufiyya art movement, which sought to combine traditional forms of Islamic calligraphy with contemporary artworks.

Widely considered the godfather of African modernism, Ibrahim El Salahi has created over five decades of visionary artworks in his own brand of Surrealism split between Arab and African origins.

A former diplomat and undersecretary of the Sudanese Ministry of Culture in the 1970s, El Salahi was imprisoned for six months without charge upon being accused of anti-government activities. An articulate and avuncular figure, El Salahi has developed his own unique art history, a pioneer on many art fronts; he was one of the first artists to elaborate Arabic calligraphy in his paintings, and the first African artist to obtain a Tate Modern retrospective.

Elementary forms and lines dominated his early work, which has, over the years, taken a meditative and abstract turn with a strong emphasis on lines, black and white.

A pivotal figure in shaping modernist principles in Africa, Ibrahim El Salahi exhibited his abstracted figures both within the continent and abroad. The human body is a frequent subject in El Salahi's body of work, each figure bearing the hallmarks of his style with elongated faces and gaunt limbs. Displaying a sparse range of tones, the work featured here convey the fatigue wrought by contemporary life.

While some modernists searched for universal truth, El Salahi focused on the plight of the individual and the emotional toll of suffering.

There are three people to address [when making an artwork], the self, the ego; unless you satisfy that ego, no work will come out at all. Second are the people in your own culture, family or neighbourhood. And third are all, human beings, wherever they might be.’ - Ibrahim El Salahi

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