Ibrahim El-Salahi is a Sudanese artist who was born in 1930 in Omdurman, Sudan. He currently lives and works in Oxford, England. He combines painting and drawing often using motifs from African, Arab and Islamic art as well as Western references.
He completed his degree at the Slade School of Art in London and then returned to Sudan to teach in Khartoum. His time at the College of Fine and Applied Arts, there, sparked a movement now known as the Khartoum School of which El-Salahi was one of the founders.
El-Salahi also spent a number of years working for governments. He began by establishing the Sudanese Embassy’s first ever Department of Culture and then went on to work for the Ministry of Information in Qatar. In between these roles, El-Salahi spent just over six months wrongly imprisoned without trial in Sudan. The hardship he endured there has informed much of his later work. El-Salahi has been recognized as a leading modernist figure and had a retrospective at Tate Modern in 2013.
‘I keep working on one particular theme inspired by a tree, an acacia locally called the Haraza that grows on the banks of the Nile. During the rainy season the tree is leafless, it blossoms with freshly budding green leaves when the weather turns dry, and the river flows at its lowest towards the sea. Through all, the tree remains steadfast, silently watching over the passage of seasons and time.’ – Ibrahim El-Salahi
A leitmotif of El-Salahi’s work has been representations of the Haraza tree, native to Sudan, which has peculiar and inspirational characteristics. His interest in the Haraza tree is an ongoing investigation of the tree / body metaphor, a link between heaven and earth, creator and created.
Speaking about when the tree blooms, El-Salahi says, ‘This is a definitive statement. Like saying ‘I am me! I am an individual! I do not follow what everyone is doing! When everyone is going to be green, let them be green. I am not! It’s individuality. I love that very much.’
Ibrahim El-Salahi: The Father of African Modernism, Nick Hackworth, New African, October 2016.
Art in Context Africa, Part V: Ibrahim El-Salahi, The Sudan-born artist discusses the role of art in the social and political life of his homeland, Mark Rappolt, April 2015.