In 2013 Ibrahim El-Salahi was the first African artist to have a solo retrospective at Tate Modern. He is considered to be not only the godfather of African and Arabic Modernism but also the link with Western Modernism due to his cross-cultural learning, exposure and experience of over 60 years.
At Frieze New York Vigo presents a selection of historical works from the artist’s private collection. Our stand will include rare 1960s paintings and drawings as well as monumental works from the 80s and 90s.
The works on canvas will include four major museum-quality works — They Always Appear (1961), They Always Appear (1964), Alphabet No.2 (1968) and Fatima (1968). We will also show Visual Diary of a Time Waste Palace — one of El-Salahi’s most important works on paper, created on square blank books found in the Emir’s palace during his self-imposed exile in Doha where he acted as advisor to the Qatari government and then as a translator and cultural advisor at the Emir’s palace. This series began on his 66th birthday, 5th September 1996 and continued until 28th April 1997. On completion, El-Salahi decided to dedicate his life solely to his art. It is a pivotal, museum-quality work.
In addition to this we are exhibiting Untitled (1984), which also featured in his Tate show. This is considered by El-Salahi to be his masterpiece on paper, comparable to the more famous The Inevitable (1984–85), and exemplifies his practice of beginning with one sheet of paper and allowing the composition to grow outwards organically. We will also show perhaps his most important abstract work on paper, Calligraphic Forms III (1989).
Finally, we will be bringing two exceptional works on paper from the early 60s from the series They Always Appear (1961/2). This series came about because for many years El-Salahi would see three tall figures appear before him. One day he was riding a donkey led by his father when it stopped in his tracks. His father scolded the animal, ushering it to move on. Ibrahim asked how the donkey could be expected to proceed with the three tall strangers standing directly in its path — only he and the donkey could see them. His father was baffled but later in life, when Ibrahim’s nephew was stung by a scorpion, he had a similar vision himself. Ibrahim also recounted to me that his friend, the artist Shibrian, also saw these same figures on different occasions. After many years they stopped appearing. Often whilst Ibrahim was at school he would have a daydream where a donkey would jump into the classroom from his peripheral vision and then out of the window. The donkey and the three tall figures come together in They Always Appear.
MoMA, Tate, The Metropolitan Museum, The Guggenheim, The British Museum, The Mathaf Museum, The National Museum of African Art Washington, The Art Institute of Chicago, The National Gallery of Victoria and Newark Museum all hold El-Salahi’s work in their collections. He is undoubtedly one of the most important and influential figures in African and Arabic Modernism.