Ibrahim El-Salahi: Pain Relief Drawings

Born in 1930 in Omdurman, Sudan, Ibrahim El-Salahi is one of the most significant artists in African and Arab modernism. Featuring a hundred drawings from El-Salahi’s latest series, titled Pain Relief, this exhibition will mark the first museum presentation of the artist’s drawings since his 2013 retrospective at Tate Modern. Drafted on the back of medicine packets, pill bottle labels, envelopes, and scraps of paper, El-Salahi’s intricate pen and ink Pain Relief drawings serve as a form of respite for the 91-year-old artist, who finds diversion from his chronic pain through his daily drawing practice. El-Salahi produced this remarkable collection of nearly 300 drawings over the past two and a half years (100 were made in 2020 during the pandemic).

A British citizen for decades, El-Salahi’s drawings are deeply connected to postwar European modernism, but also are profoundly embedded in a tradition of African and Islamic art history. After studying at the Slade School of Art in London, El-Salahi returned to Khartoum in the late 1950s to become a founding member of the celebrated Khartoum School, a bellwether group of artists that represented the flowering of modernism in the Islamic world. Inspired by Arabic calligraphy, as well as Surrealist figuration and geometric abstraction, El-Salahi created a distinctive visual language that he expresses most prolifically in drawing.

Organized by Laura Hoptman, Executive Director