Ibrahim El-Salahi – An All Rounder – at Tate Modern London
By Osama Mahmoud
The BBC as an institution does invest heavily in culture programs, which explore art and artists of most genres. One of those vehicles is The Culture Show. At a particular night, 23rd of July 2013 to be specific, the focus of the program was about art in Africa, a very broad topic, which was put into prospective by focusing on modern art. The chosen artists were of different genre, yet are closely related in their visions. Almost connected telepathically, well most artists are, according to the average person.
Ibrahim Elsalahi, the Sudanese visionary artist and Meschac Gaba, the Beninese artist were the focal points of the Tate Modern advert campaign between July to September 2013. The Culture Show was a great introduction to the artists’ mindset, and a good guide to what to expect from visiting their respective exhibitions in London.
Crossing to the promise land…
It was Ramadan of 2013. Amid the summer season, a beautiful sunny day was encouraging to take a short journey to the gallery. The Tate Modern resides on the south bank of the river Thames. The closest tube station was Blackfriars. It is a twenty minutes stroll from the station to the gallery. As the venue was getting closer and closer, the advertising banners started to appear on both side the Millennium Bridge (yet another great piece of architecture, towering above the river and used as a passage from White Chapel to Tate Modern. The banners were carrying the name of a formidable visionary artist who has been and still is on the top of his game. A well known individual within the beautiful world of art, hence eight huge rooms were dedicated to his paintings.
First impression does always counts, and that was evident as you take the first few steps into Ibrahim Elsalahi’s world. On the right hand side of room one, a masterpiece, huge in size, full of details and deep in meaning, called “The Day of Judgement”. Visitors were captivated by what’s going on the painting. It was surrounded by people, some were looking from the right, while others from the left, and some were sitting down, while others were in groups whispering to each other their different views. Everyone was in awe of what they were witnessing.
Ibrahim Elsalahi was behind the installations, alignments and arrangement of all his works at the Tate. He was telling a story, which was unfolding gradually as you move from room one right to room eight. Each room was a reflection of a different era of Elsalahi artistic life.
Throughout history, pain and hardship are sometimes behinds greatest works of arts. The same rule applies to the singer, musician, painter, and novelist, and writer. In the mid-seventies of twentieth century, Ibrahim Elsalahi has decided to return to Sudan as he felt his country was calling for him and it was time to utilise his experience in service for Sudan. He held top posts at the Ministry of Culture and Broadcasting. A year later, a coup attempt took place and Numairi was briefly ousted from power. A few days later, Elsalahi was detained by the security services because his cousin was connected to the coup. Although he was physically imprisoned for six months, his creative mind was constantly working outside the box.
Elements that were noticeable throughout Elsalahi’s exhibition:
Sufism – some of his painting included Arabic calligraphy, scripture from Quran and sufi’s sublimations, most notably in portray of his father’s passing away painting.
Pan African – The route of struggle to achieve independence for the colonial powers and what followed that period from neo-colonialism – He portrayed Lumumba’s funeral in one of his painting and the after mass following his assassination in an aeroplane crash.
Room five of the exhibition compiled Elsalahi collaboration work with other artists, novelists, actors and film-makers from all over the world. Elsalahi was behind the majority of drawing and sketches in Eltayeb Salih novels, most notably Almarioud and Alzain Wedding. The later was adapted into a film and he played the role of the wise man – Elshiekh. The film enjoyed a huge success, it was a Sudanese film which was produced and directed by Kuwaiti film maker Khalid Al-Siddig.
Ibrahim Elsalahi is an all rounder, a visionary artist, a free thinker, a national treasure, and above all is a revolutionalist against the routine and injustice. His biography and art works should be part of the Sudan’s school curriculum.
His fellow Tate Modern artist, Gaba, was celebrated by his country by having some of his instalment displayed in main streets of the capital Porto-Nov. While one have to dig very deep to find similar level of recognition for Elsalahi in Sudan!