Ibrahim El Salahi
Trained in Sudan and at London’s Slade School of Fine Art, Ibrahim El Salahi received only a lukewarm reception for his first exhibitions after returning to Sudan. Like many artists of his generation, he struggled to find a productive balance between regional and international influences, as well as an audience with whom the work would resonate. Eventually finding his niche by integrating his formal Western training with the sinuous line derived from Arabic calligraphy, El Salahi discovered a modern art that would speak not only to his compatriots in Sudan, but also to his fellow modernists across North and West Africa.
The Prayer (1960) and Vision of the Tomb (1965) are built on the precision and grace of calligraphic lines. The Prayer explores the graphic qualities of written language, taking a verse from the Qur’an as the painting’s subject: “Pray do not change our hearts having shown us the light, and have mercy on us, giver of all.” Interspersed with the script are Sudanic folk art patterns, demonstrating that the cosmopolitanism of certain modern artists was not always dictated by their interaction with European cultures. In Vision of the Tomb, the artist’s palette varies from strong blue, black, and red to thin washes of gray and ivory. Set against a dusty brown, the tower of gently ascending forms evokes Arabic script and seems to materialize before the viewer like a mirage.