Exhibition room 1. Ibrahim el-Salahi

Formerly a politician and diplomat, while employed as the deputy undersecretary for culture in Sudan, El-Salahi was falsely accused of anti-government activities in 1975 and imprisoned six months without trial. This experience would significantly change the artist's life and art, resulting in stark black and white drawings that reference his incarceration and reflect on the trauma of isolation. Much of his post-prison work from the 1970s and 1980s, made during his self-imposed exile in Doha, Qatar, and London, England, begins on a single sheet of paper to which he would add panels from a central nucleus.

Source: Museum for African Art (New York) www.africanart.org/inaugural/12/ibrahim_el_salahi_a_visionary_modernist

While imprisoned in Khartoum’s abysmal Cooper Prison in 1975, El-Salahi occupied his mind by planning revolutionary works. Given a sharpened toothbrush and protected by inmates, he sketched in the sand during exercise periods, always leveling the ground and burying the stylus before guards discovered his practice (no pencils or paper were allowed). After his release, he left the country and continued working on his oeuvre, and when the Nimieri government was overthrown, in 1985, his work The Inevitable became a celebration of renewed hope for the country. The composition consists of nine cardboard squares drawn on in india ink, with no added color. Besides owing a debt to Guernica, this restriction to black and white reflects El-Salahi’s attention to line as the primary element of his art, a principle he derives from Islamic calligraphy, whose sinuous strokes he modifies, however, to depict the human figure.

The Inevitable is an image of subterranean horror overthrown by human endurance. Its scale shifts from the microscopic to the monumental, and from abstraction to figuration, through a constantly varying series of curvilinear shapes and densities of black and white, bounded by the rectilinear frame of each panelEl-Salahi hoped that The Inevitable would belong to the Sudanese people, and he has refused to allow it to enter that country until civil liberties are restored there. The choice matches Picasso’s intentions for Guernica, a transfer that finally occurred in 1981, three years before El-Salahi began his work.

Source: exhibition catalogue for “Post-Picasso: Contemporary Reactions,” Michael FitzGerald