Ibrahim El-Salahi

Article Bio Works Projects
Islam, spirituality
Visual Arts (graphic, painting)
Africa, Northern, Europe, Western
Sudan, England (UK)
created on:
July 18, 2003
last changed on:
Please note: This page has not been updated since August 4, 2003. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
information provided by:


Born in 1930 the Sudanese Ibrahim El-Salahi is one of his land´s best known artists and has an international reputation. He was a member of the Khartoum School, founded by Osman Waqialla, the aim of which was to create modern, authentically Sudanese art and aesthetic criteria. In 1975 El-Salahi was accused of conspiring against the government and imprisoned for 6 months. Soon after being freed he moved to Britain.
Ibrahim El-Salahi´s works can be divided into 3 phases. From the 1950s to 1970s they were dominated by elementary forms and lines; briefly at the end of the 1970s they were more meditative, abstract and organic in form; and they have since been mostly black and white with an emphasis on lines.

After studying in Europe, Ibrahim El-Salahi studied the graphic elements of folk art, Coptic manuscripts and Islamic calligraphy in the Sudan, his aim being to find a way to blend Arabic, Nubic, Coptic and European elements with one another. Already in the 1950s he was one of the first artists to incorporate Arab calligraphy into his works, using it both as a means of communication and as purely aesthetic form.

In 1964 he painted ´The Woman, the Bird and the Pomegranate´, a picture notable for its simple but very effective composition. A women is standing with arms outstretched in an undefined space. In one hand she is holding a pomegranate, often a symbol of fertility, and on her left arm is sitting a big bird. The woman´s head is disproportionately big, and one arm is longer than the other. The schematic representation makes the picture obscure and mysterious, and the static composition of vertical and horizontal lines gives it an air of ritual.

The work ´Mosque´ was likewise painted in the year 1964 but has little in common with the other. Brown and black forms create vertical lines and give a definite rhythm to this image in which are blended figurative and abstract elements. On the right is to be seen a long breast-plate, the monochrome face is modelled by only brushstrokes, and some circles suggest further faces. The mosque itself can be made out only vaguely in the sense of two lengthy upright forms topped by more circular ones. Ornamental elements ease the otherwise strict composition in various places.

´The Inevitable´ (1984-1985) is from El-Salahi´s third, mainly black and white period. This monumental picture (530 x 604 cm) is made up of ink drawings on 9 separate panels. According to the painter, work on it was an ´endless organic growth´. It is about the Sudanese civil war and shows a chaos of raised fists, banners, weapons and crowded folk. The picture is also notable for its strong lines. The western distinction between painting and drawing is irrelevant for Ibrahim El-Salahi: ´There is no painting without drawing and no form without lines... In effect all pictures can be reduced to lines.´

(Translation: Phil Stanway)
Author: Petra Stegmann


Ibrahim El-Salahi was born in 1930 in Omdurman in the Sudan. From 1948-51 he studied at the School of Design in the Gordon Memorial College in Khartoum then taught art at the Wadi Seidna Secondary School near Omdurman. From 1954-57 he studied with a grant at the Slade School of Fine Art and at the Royal College of Art in London, and on the continent visited Florence, to familiarise himself with Renaissance art. Back in the Sudan he became head of the department of painting at the College of Fine and Applied Art in Khartoum and a member of the old Khartoum school. At the start of the 1970s he was a member of the Mbari Club in Ibadan.

In 1962 El-Salahi was a fellow of UNESCO then visited the USA, South America, Paris and London. From 1964-65 he was a fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation and in 1966 led the Sudanese delegation to the first Black Art Festival in Dakar. In 1975 he was imprisoned for 6 months under the dictatorship of General Nimieri then soon went into exile.

El-Salahis works are to be found in private and public collections round the world like in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, the National Gallery of Victoria in Sydney, the Newcastle Art Gallery in Australia; the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, the Iwalewa-Haus in Bayreuth, and in the Hampton University Art Museum in Virgini a.

El-Salahi lives in Oxford in England.


Solo exhibitions

Exhibition / Installation,
1960 Grand Hotel Exhibition Hall, Khartoum 1961 Mbari Gallery, Ibadan 1963 Academy of Fine Art, Kolkata Middle East House, Washington D.C. ICA, London Galerie Daberkow, Frankfurt am Main 1965 The Museum of Modern Art, New York 1966 Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia 1967 ICA, London Galerie Lambert, Paris 1969 French Cultural Centre, Khartoum Nommo Gallery, Kampala Camden Arts Centre, London 1972 Galerie Agysimba, Berlin 1974 Art Gallery, N.C.C.A.L., Kuwait 1978 Maison de la Culture, Reims 1984 Iwalewa-Haus, Bayreuth 1990 Iwalewa-Haus, Bayreuth 1992 Savannah Gallery, London Whitechapel Art Gallery, London

Group exhibitions

Exhibition / Installation,
1964 Sudan Pavillion, New York World’s Fair 1977 FESTAC, Lagos 2000 “L’Afrique á Jour, 10 ans de création á la Biennale de Dakar“ 2001 „The Short Century”, Museum Villa Stuck, München; Haus der Kulturen der Welt im Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center and the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2002)


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

The Short Century

Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa

(18 May 01 - 29 July 01)