If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Ibrahim El-Salahi

This video brought to you by Tate.org.uk

A major figure in Arab and African modernism, artist Ibrahim El-Salahi discusses his work Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams I (1962-3), a large-scale oil painting at Tate. In 2013, Tate Modern presented the UK's first major exhibition of El-Salahi's work, bringing together 100 pieces from across more than five decades of his international career. Take a look at some highlights from one of the most significant figures in African art and learn more about how he belongs to a broader, global art history as well.
Created by Tate.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

Many times people ask me, what do you do? I said, ‘I’m a picture maker’. Photographer? I said, ‘No, I paint.’ House painter? ‘No, I wish I were, because I could have earned more money by being a house painter!’ But I said, ‘I paint pictures. I make them on my own, and I try to see how they go.’ I don’t differentiate between drawing and painting. It’s all art, works of art. Though I’m never satisfied at all with what I do because I keep continuously working, and this is what gives me the urge to keep on and on and on with it. I believe that the artist, when he works there are three people to address, self, the ego, which is, unless you satisfy that ego no work will come out at all. Secondly it’s others, the people in your own culture, in your own family in your own neighbourhood. And the third person is all human beings, wherever it might be. The colour which I work for some years, burnt sienna, ochre, yellow ochres, white and blacks it’s the colour of the earth in the Sudan, which I cared a great deal about and the idea of the organic growth of a picture. 'In the Reborn Sounds of Childhood, Dream number one' it was one piece. The one that the Tate took, that I did when I was teaching at the art college in Sudan. I remember we had a commission to make some paintings for the municipal council and with a friend of mine, we had a large piece of cloth which we primed and worked on it in the studio where I used to teach. So we separated, and we used the scissors where I cut and I got my part, and I kept working on it. I was so excited about the idea whatever came through my vision. And the thing is that I used, even with the oil paint I used enamel paint, which was terrible, enamel paint for a piece of cloth! To tell you the truth, when I am working, I am not at all aware of what it is going to look like. I work, I feel as if I am possessed by some other power within me which is producing that work and that’s why all I can recognise is the nucleus. In the nucleus, yes, I can see that this is a germ of an idea. How it’s going to grow into a larger size I have no idea whatsoever, I just keep working. And when I, by keeping working, the work develops by itself and shows me things possibly in my subconscious mind that I am not at all aware of what it is all about. And that’s why I prefer not to give it a name. Yet sometimes it becomes so obvious that that has got a name, and it tells me. You know, it’s almost like children growing. You give them a name, then later on they change their name and they give you another kind of image continuously. That’s why I almost gave up after giving so many names I said never mind about the names, let that be judged by the viewer. And the viewer, I think, has got a role to play that when you look at the work what the work means to you is the most, for me, is far more important because that is the message. What it means altogether is up to them, not to me. And otherwise, I will be almost like dictating my thing giving it a name to start with I’m dictating what he should understand or what she understands, I leave it to them.