Ibrahim El-Salahi @ Tate Modern

Last sunday, the weather looked rather ominous – mean looking dark clouds were gathering above us and winds were increasing its strength by the minute.
With umbrellas tucked under our armpits, we were trudging towards Tate Modern, Bankside while being whipped up by the gale from all sides which channelled itself between a new extension of Tate Modern and the next door all-glazed extremely ugly Yuppie apartment blocks.

The design by Herzog & de Meuron stood against the grey sky, resembling a giant 3D jigsaw puzzle…


Hubbie and I were there for the exhibition of Ibrahim El-Salahi.

Mr.El-Salahi is a native Sudanese artist who is a major contributor to the modernist movements in Africa and the Arab worlds. He studied art in Sudan and UK.
After Sudan was freed from British colonial rule, he returned to his motherland and joined a collective movements which aimed to define a shared Sudanese cultural identity.
During the ’60s, he travelled around Sudan extensively and established his own style in which he merged his academic training in UK with traditional Sudanese art & craft practices…


In El-Salahi’s early masterpieces, figures with African ceremonial masks are surrounded by Islamic motifs such as a crescent moon and calligraphy from Quran…



In another works, multiple layers of oil & enamel paint mixture is employed to create a pottery-like texture – the surface undulates with the build-up of the pigments…



He was wrongly imprisoned, together with the Sudan’s leading intellectuals, after the failed military coup of 1975…


The experience affected him deeply and his style transformed from early colourful & experimental forms to more somber black & white ink drawings.

In his recent interview, El-Salahi explained how his works would start spontaneously – no scenario or no predetermined size and not even any title.
His gentle but precise pen strokes would steadily fill the paper until the image outgrew a given space. Then, he would move on to the next sheet of paper and so on. The work would keep on growing in size until he felt the picture was complete…




He explained about this particular method of working as the result of a less generous workspace in his studio at Doha, Qatar, after his release from prison.

Since 1998, he moved his residence to Oxford, UK permanently.
This work is titled “The Tree”…


The bold colours are infilled with delicate pen strokes.
It resembles a decaying ancient fabric or a mystical genetic print. The beauty of the work takes my breath away.

The lush green of the British countryside must have stimulated El-Salahi’s appetite for colours.
His works start to become colourful again…



By visiting the exhibition, I had a rare opportunity to experience the artist’s unique journey. The journey which took more than a few unexpected turns beyond his control.
His tireless passion towards his artistic expression must have been a core strength which he relied upon during the darkest part of his journey. Instead of being made bitter by the unwarranted cruelty he received, he absorbed it as nourishment to grow and reach out to the sky like a haraza tree along the Nile in Sudan.

By the way, this weekend will be the last chance to view this extraordinarily African artist’s retrospective.
So don’t miss out or you may regret it otherwise…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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