© Courtesy Ibrahim El-Salahi
Ibrahim El-Salahi
They Always Appear 1966–8

Ibrahim El-Salahi is one of the leading artists of the modernist movements in Africa and the Arab world. His extraordinary body of work comprises paintings, drawings, illustrations and critical writing, combining traditional African, Arab and Islamic visual sources with Western styles and movements. His unique style transcends geographic and cultural boundaries and has inspired artists in Sudan, where he is one of its most influential figures.

Born in 1930 in Omdurman, Sudan, to a prominent family with a long history of Islamic scholarship and activism, El-Salahi’s primary education began at his father’s Khalwa, a Qur’anic school where he learnt to read and write by transcribing sections of the Qur’an in calligraphic, Sudanese script. This emphasis on calligraphy later became crucial to his painting and drawing technique.

After studying painting at the School of Design in Khartoum from 1949–52, El-Salahi left his home country in 1954 on a government scholarship to study painting and calligraphy at the Slade School of Fine Art inLondon, where he became acquainted with Western Modernism.

Returning to Sudan in 1957, he became a key member of the ‘Khartoum School’ – a group of artists developing a new visual vocabulary to reflect the distinctive identity of the newly independent nation. The ‘Khartoum School’ was one of the most active contributors to the growth of modern art in Africa.

El-Salahi’s art offers profound possibilities for understanding African and Arab modernisms and repositioning them within the context of a broader, global modernity. This retrospective traces a personal journey from the Sudanto his international arts education to his detention as a political prisoner and resulting, self-imposed exile. El-Salahi now lives in Oxford, but his memories and experiences of contemporary Sudan remain a constant part of his artistic practice.