From June 18 to July 31, the Norwegian Drawing Association presents Ibrahim El-Salahi’s first solo exhibition in Norway. El-Salahi (b. 1930, Omdurman, Sudan) is a key figure in African modernism. This exhibition is produced in collaboration with the Drawing Center in New York, where it will be presented later this year, and consists of 90 drawings from the series Pain Relief Drawings. For the exhibition, the Norwegian Drawing Association invited Norwegian-Sudanese artist Ahmed Umar (b. 1988) to contribute new drawings. The works of El-Salahi and Umar create a dialogue between two generations of the same country.
Between Islamic Art History and Western Modernism
El-Salahi’s work is rooted in the modernism of post-war Europe and in the traditions of African and Islamic art history. Inspired by Arabic calligraphy, surrealist figuration and geometric abstraction, El-Salahi’s distinctive pictorial language is most often expressed through drawing. His style transcends geographical and cultural boundaries and has inspired artists in Sudan and elsewhere in Africa for generations.
pain relief drawings
Since 2016, El-Salahi has created a series of works made up of hundreds of small drawings that he calls Pain Relief Drawings. He started the series when back pain reduced his mobility, making him dependent on painkillers. After he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, his movements became even more restricted, leading to even higher prescription drug use. These medicine packets serve as the canvas for the drawings in the series.
The series invokes drawings made by El-Salahi in 1975, during a six-month prison stint in Khartoum, Sudan, for political crimes that were never substantiated. With a contraband pencil, he drew on scraps of paper torn from the wrappers of food deliveries received by his fellow inmates. Due to size and time limitations in making these drawings, El-Salahi mastered a compositional technique in which he started from a small central point – described by the artist as a nucleus – from which he grew. is made its way outward. The Pain relief series is made using a similar technique. With the prison drawings in mind, El-Salahi said he considers every Pain Relief Drawing to be a kind of core in itself. “It is the origin; that’s the main thing,” he explains, referring to his new works.
This way of thinking is a common factor in all of El-Salahi’s artistic practice, characterized by a personal link between making art and praying, as if the act of making carried within it a spiritual power of comfort, even of healing.
Ibrahim El-Salahi: biography
Ibrahim El-Salahi is an eminent figure in the art world. In the 1950s he was one of the founders of the Khartoum School, a prominent group of artists representing the rise of modernism in the Islamic world. Since the 1960s, his works have been exhibited in renowned institutions around the world, including the British Museum in London; MASP, Sao Paulo; Arab World Institute, Paris, and Museum of Modern Art, New York. His most recent solo exhibitions include a retrospective at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (2018) and Tate Modern, London (2013).
El-Salahi’s works can be found in various public collections, including the National Gallery of Victoria, Sydney; The National Gallery, Berlin; Tate Modern, London; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and The Art Institute of Chicago.
El-Salahi lives in Oxford, UK.
The meeting of two generations
During the exhibition period, Norwegian-Sundanese artist Ahmed Umar will show new drawings in dialogue with El-Salahi’s work in the gallery’s project room.
Umar works with a number of different materials and forms of expression, including ceramics, textiles, printmaking, photography and performance. In his work, he explores the relationship between gender, sexuality, power and art, and draws inspiration from the enormous cultural and artistic richness of Sudan. This is the first time that Ahmed Umar has shown drawings in his career.
The exhibition is curated by Laura Hoptman, director of the Drawing Center in New York.