Ibrahim El-Salahi at Frieze NY 2015. Photo by Beth De Woody. Courtesy of Vigo Gallery.
“El-Salahi is arguably one of the most important modern African artists alive,” said curator Elvira Dyangani Ose, who co-curated the retrospective at the Tate with Hassan. “His vibrant, experimental and enduring body of work helped to write one of the most critical chapters of Sudanese art, in particular, and African art, in general.” But while the show made a triumphal final stop at the Tate Modern (it was the British institution’s first solo show dedicated to an African artist), and a handful of international galleries have shown the artist, who is now 85 years old, over the past few years (London’s Vigo Gallery has given him two solo shows since 2014), El-Salahi has remained largely under-recognized in the U.S., perhaps until now.
On Wednesday in New York, nearly simultaneously, Vigo Gallery’s booth at The Armory Show and Salon 94’s Bowery space opened to international audiences, offering the opportunity to drink in prime examples of El-Salahi’s new and iconic works—and to understand his importance firsthand.
Installation view of Vigo Gallery’s booth at The Armory Show, 2016. Photo by Adam Reich for Artsy.
Installation view of “Ibrahim El-Salahi: Alhambra” at Salon 94, New York. Courtesy of Salon 94 and the artist.
Uptown at The Armory Show, Vigo Gallery, situated within the Focus: Africa section, devoted its booth to El-Salahi’s black-and-white series of works dating from the 1960s to the present (the gallery noted that the series is the artist’s favorite). Tiny, intricate markings in pen and ink give way to rhythmic, voluminous forms that dip in and out of figuration and abstraction. Smaller drawings from the early ’60s are filled with symbols and markings that evidence the artist’s deep connection to his Islamic roots, with nods to Arabic calligraphy and mosque architecture. Later works evidence the his steady artistic evolution, and an unmistakable injection of modernism. The calligraphic forms expand and gain visual weight, often encircling sinuous figures who stare at the viewer with piercing eyes.