My favourite step in doing this blog is the research for artists and subjects to write about. I often get involved in a myriad of links, articles and videos, one theme leading to another that unfolds in a long waiting list of ideas for future posts.
I came across Ibrahim El-Salahi (born 1930) in one of these journeys through art in African countries and how modernism unfolded in their context of independence from colonialist power.
It’s essential to keep in mind that modernism is generally perceived through a Euro-American perspective, leaving peripheral movements and artists, out of the story.
Is relevant to say then, that in most African countries, the mix of cultural traditions and aesthetics with references from European art, gave birth to a modernism that was an expression of a new identity.
El-Salahi is an artist that bring together elements of his native Sudan, colours from the natural enviroment, the tradition of Arabic calligraphy and sub-Saharan sculptures, creating works that reflects and speaks to Sudanese people through abstract paintings.
He studied art in Sudan following and western curriculum in 1949 and went to London to finish his studies. Back to his country in the late 50’s he felt his work disconnected to the reality of people and started his experimentation with visual elements that were common and accessible such as Islamic art and Arabic letters.
He is usually associated with the Khartoum School, a movement that is know for the use of Islamic imagery and calligraphy into abstract forms.
I love the flux his work has, it feels that the figures are going somewhere, that they are growing. I also get a sense of communion, the figures usually are close to each other in celebration. His visual language feels familiar with the use of colours, but add new aspects of Arabic culture making into something new.
The retrospective at Tate
In 2013 Tate Modern showed a major retrospective of his work “Ibrahim El-Salahi: a Visionary Modernist” – the first of an artist from an African country. You can find more about the exhibition with audios, videos and articles here.
Have you seen his work before? Let me know in the comments!
Have a great week!