Woodstocker Books


Ibrahim El-Salahi: A Sudanese Artist in Oxford by Lena Fritsch

Ibrahim El-Salahi: A Sudanese Artist in Oxford by Lena Fritsch


Ashmolean Museum Publications

Size: 6.25 in x 8.5 in
Pages: 72
Illustrations: 75 color, 3 b&w

• Many new, previously unpublished pieces are included

  • Includes a transcription of a candid interview with the celebrated contemporary African artist and statesman

  • Accompanies an exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK

The extraordinary body of work of one man, Ibrahim El-Salahi, stands at the forefront of modern African art.  At age 88, the ever-productive artist continues non-stop in the creation of a transnational African-influenced surrealism. His art uses formal and ideological cues from modernist painting, balanced into pure expression and gestural constructions. This blending of African abstraction, influences of Western painting and Arabic calligraphy -- art that has never been bound by one style -- have been shown at Tate Modern (a one-man show), at MOMA, the Guggenheim, the Museum of African Art and in galleries and museums worldwide.

The young man learned calligraphy in his father's Qur'anic school. His vivid imagination rooted in the traditions of his homeland were fused with inventive forms of calligraphy. He  studied at the School of Design at the University of Khartoum and then at London's Slade School of Fine Art where he began to incorporate formal and ideological clues from modernist painting.  He became a member of the "Khartoum School" and was associated with the Mbari Club in Ibadan, Nigeria. With  UNESCO and and Rockefeller Foundation support, he studied in the U.S., traveled to South America and in 1966 led the Sudanese delegation at the first World Festival of Black Arts in Senegal.

A man of many talents, El-Salahi was assistant cultural attaché at the Sudanese Embassy in London from 1969 - 1972, then returned to Sudan as Director of Culture under Jaafar Nimeiri's regime and became Undersecretary in the Ministry of Culture and Information. In September of 1975 he was imprisoned without charge for six months, accused of participating in an anti-government coup. In prison he would use the 25 free daily exercise minutes to sketch out ideas for huge paintings, then bury the small drawings. The artist-politician-statesman-artist eventually settled in England.

This lively and accessible book accompanies the first solo exhibition of El-Salahi's work in Oxford, the city which has been his home for the past 20 years. A dialogue is set  with objects from the Museum's ancient Sudanese collection. The artist's intellectual engagement, creative productivity and  uncompromising aesthetic are revealed in the interview with him. This catalogue which traces his artistic evolution, from the early abstracted works on paper, through his extraordinary multi-panel paintings, to the emergence of his mature, meditative drawings on medicine packets and small envelopes also includes an illustrated chronology.

Lena Fritsch is Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

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