Ibrahim El-Salahi, one of the leading exponents of African modernism, will be honored at Kunsthalle Zürich, Switzerland, with the exhibition “Pain Relief Drawings” from February 4 to May 14, 2023. A founder of the Karthum School, Ibrahim El-Salahi traveled to the United States, Mexico, and Brazil in the 1960s, where he worked with renowned artists such as Rufino Tamayo and members of the Spiral Group.
His commitment to revive Sudanese traditions rather than follow European artistic teachings, where he had studied at Oxford, was the starting point for his unique style. This courageous decision allowed him to become a key figure of African modernism, reflecting the last century with its ruptures, hopes and demands.
Renowned Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi has created an extraordinary series of pain relief drawings over the past five years. The series was initiated in 2016 when back pain reduced the artist’s mobility and forced him to resort to medication for relief. Despite his advanced age and diminished physical abilities, Ibrahim El-Salahi has produced hundreds of drawings on this theme.
The pain relief drawings are mostly in black and white, but sometimes also in blue and red, on very small medicine bags and envelopes. They feature biomorphic patterns, designs and shapes similar to the artist’s diaristic practice. The series also includes abstract scenes that reflect the socio-political incidents and world events that preoccupied Ibrahim El-Salahi at the time he created the work.
A remarkable aspect of this series is the use of deliberately banal materials such as old medicine bags and envelopes. The drawings incorporate found images, texts and structures, such as the name of the sender or a transparent window into the artistic composition. Everyday forms and materials are inextricably mixed and transformed into works of art.
Ibrahim El-Salahi emphasized the connection for him between art-making and prayer, as if the act of creation carried a spiritual power of comfort and perhaps even healing. The pain relief drawings reflect this belief by blending everyday materials and socio-political concerns with biomorphic motifs that suggest a potential for healing and comfort.
The exhibition at Kunsthalle Zürich will feature a selection of 89 small-format drawings called “Pain Relief Drawings“, created since 2016 by the artist. Although these drawings may seem light and improvised, they are actually the result of deep thought and intense concentration. Drawn on medicine boxes or envelopes, the “Pain Relief Drawings” are associative, agile and meditative. Visitors will enjoy these precise and focused works in this exhibition curated by Laura Hoptman, Executive Director of the Drawing Center in New York, and presented at Kunsthalle Zurich by Daniel Baumann, Director/Curator.
The exhibition “Pain Relief Drawings” is an opportunity to discover or rediscover the work of Ibrahim El-Salahi, one of the most influential African artists of our time. His work is a reminder of the importance of tradition and history in contemporary art, and of the need for artists to find their own way, rather than follow the dominant movements.