Ibrahim El-Salahi was born in Omdurman, Sudan, in 1930. His studies in painting at the School of Design at Gordon Memorial College were followed by a scholarship to the Slade in London, after which he returned to teach at the College of Fine and Applied Arts in Khartoum, becoming a leading figure in the movement later known as the Khartoum School. During the 1960s he was closely associated with the multidisciplinary pan-African Mbari Artist and Writers Club based in Ibadan, Nigeria, of which fellow associates included the novelists Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe, and the artist Jacob Lawrence. While maintaining an interest in the graphic forms of Sudanese calligraphy, El-Salahi’s work has evolved through a number of distinct phases over the course of his six-decade-long career. At the Slade he had studied European art history going back to the Renaissance, as well as the work of modern masters, but on his return to Sudan, El-Salahi spent a significant period engaging with the natural colours, symbolism and decorative traditions of his home country.
Between the late 1970s and mid-90s, influenced by his experiences in jail, El-Salahi focused on composite, multipanelled works in black and white, of which perhaps the best known became the monumental nine-panel ink painting The Inevitable (1984–5). Since 1998 he has lived and worked in Oxford, England. El-Salahi’s works form part of notable institutional collections, including those of MoMa, New York; the Smithsonian Institution, Washington; Iwalewa- Haus, Bayreuth; National Gallery of Victoria, Sydney, and the Newcastle Art Gallery, Australia. In 2013 he was the subject of a major retrospective at Tate Modern, the first such dedicated to African Modernism.