His works are modernist with an Afro-Arab twist. Ibrahim El-Salahi is a Sudanese artist that has remained relatively underrated until recently. El-Salahi has been called “one of the greatest living African artists.” His works have been exhibited in Sharjah, Doha, London, and now in New York. His “Alhambra” exhibition is now on display at Salon 94’s Bowery, along with his “Arab Spring Notebook,” which is viewing for the first time in the United States.


“Alhambra” features a collection of art work inspired by El-Salahi’s travels in Andalusia, Spain. Inspired by Alhambra, the Moorish fortress at Granada, the collection of the same name draws from the Islamic influences of Spanish history. In “Alhambra,” oil paintings in warm, earthy colors on cardboards evoke a sense of this aspect of African and Islamic history of Europe, which peppers El-Salahi’s other collections.



El-Salahi was born in 1930 in Omdurman, Sudan. He studied art in school, winning a government scholarship to the Slade School of Fine Art in London. It was apparently there that he came in contact with European artists such as Cézanne and Giotto, who remain among his sources of inspiration. As a Sufi Muslim, el-Salahi frequently draws from his religious background in his art. He learned Arabic calligraphy in a Qur’anic school run by his father, and he combines this with Western modernism.


Upon returning to Sudan in 1957, he taught at the Technical Institute before eventually working with the ministry of culture. However, this was interrupted in 1975 when he was wrongfully jailed for about six months, accused of anti-government sentiments after a failed military coup. El-Salahi eventually left Sudan on self-exile. When he was released, he was first living in Qatar, then in the United Kingdom where he is based now.


Now 85 years old, El-Salahi is the first African artist to have a dedicated solo show in the Tate Modern in London. His works continue to grow and evolve combining modernism with his Sudanese roots and in doing so creating a unique African modernism. The “Arab Spring Notebook,” which is also on display, is a book of 46 black-and-white drawings by El-Salahi in response to the Arab Spring. This notebook is one of the visual diaries that El-Salahi has created over the years documenting cultural events in Sudan and the Arab world.


Are there other African artists from older generations that are relatively unknown? Let us know their names by leaving a comment below or reaching me on Twitter @rafeeeeta