6 January 2017

Sudan: Al-Salahi - Sudan's Version of Marlon Brando

analysis

Khartoum — The character he played in the pioneering Sudanese film "The Wedding of Zein", was nothing but himself: a calm, radiating and self-imposing, Noel-like elderly. That is Ibrahim al-Salahi in life as well as in that movie.

Known world-wide as a talented artist-painter whose tableaux today hung in the most expensive, highly guarded and classy galleries and museums, the 85-year-old Salahi, was also a pioneer in radio and TV drama in his home country.

Beit al- Jack (Arabic for the household of al- jack. Al Jack stands for near to earth average Sudanese in central Sudan at the time and quite possible an Arabized Sudanese of African origin) was but one of the first social soup opera in the language of today, which he used to write, read and produced in Sudan's National Corporation for Radio and TV.

Though few were the words he uttered in that film, his role remained memorable up-to-date. He portrayed and stood in life as the personification of the character drawn by Tayeb Salih of the mystic man who has a radiant face emerging out of the desert haze in the morning hours or late evening, to bless the mundane person of Zein, the hero of that movie.

Zein the chaotic, unpredictable person in "The Wedding of Zein" the Chef D'oeuvre of Tayeb Salih, and the main character in the film, gets calm whenever he sees Sheikh Haneen- the character played by Salahi, coming out of the desert from nowhere to impose by his mere presence calm and order in the life of the villagers; I bet every time Salahi appeared on TV or Radio talk show nowadays, the same calm comes with him. Cheer calm permeates from him.

Salahi was once quoted as commenting that his role in the film was not that much of acting, and that it was terse and small; still to us audience it was one of the most memorable role: it was one of the roles you could not imagine someone else playing it to perfection as he did.

You could not forget the silent scenes personified by Marlon Brando in the God Father. To me Salahi was up to par with Brando acting. It was all natural that he played that role, an elderly with a child face.

Salahi stands out an amalgam of an Afro Arab culture, a convergence of the two cultures, akin to the two Niles converging just a few hundred meters southwest of the house where he was born, September 1930, in the City of Omdurman, one of three cities making Greater Khartoum, the Capital.

He graduated from the design school of the Gordon Memorial College (now the University of Khartoum). In 1954 he obtained a scholarship from the School of Arts in London. He later on obtained several high academic degrees and awards. He now lives in the U.K.

The way he behaves, talks, acts and smiles is unique. He is a tableau of, and a melting pot, a continuum of desert and forest: Sudan at its best. A man grown by a father who was well versed in Koran and in Arabic grammar, arts and literature, Salahi received his first education in a Koranic school with his father, and then moved to Western education.

It was there as put by Sheikh Hamido Kane of "the Ambiguous Adventure", that he learned how to "link wood to wood without using robe" that the technique and modern education: the technique of various schools of drawing, but deeply immersed in his own Afro-Arab, Islamic, desert-versus forest culture.

But his travel abroad, was out of chocking experience of a sort. As undersecretary of the Ministry of Culture in the 1970s, he was all of a sudden put in jail (1975-1976) for allegedly playing a role in the failed coup attempt by his cousin colonel Hasan Husain. Husain, a military, was summarily sentenced and executed. Salahi was Later on exonerated by court.

That harsh experiment had forced him to leave the country in search of a place where he can find freedom of movement and expression. But, as he said later on, that experiment "as bitter as it was, had changed my artistic life and led me into new things that might not have been reached without that ordeal."

But as expected from an artist, every tragic experience is converted into a piece of art.

Life was not always easy, smooth or simple for Salahi. He had to undergo the same fate of Okonko, the main character in Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart." A flat life yields no great artist; ups and downs shake off the ash, the soot and produces, a spotless artist and painter: Salahi.

In his painting as well as in his acting, Salahi has been able to convey his ideas without much talking. He exhibits order in all his activities and, to me, he stands as an art in himself.

E N D

MO/AS

Note: Following are some highlights in the career of the renowned artist painter, al Salahi:-

Salahi's Solo exhibitions:

- 2016: The Armory, New York (Vigo Gallery)

- 2016: Salon 94, New York

- 2015: Vigo Gallery, London

- 2015: Frieze New York (Vigo Gallery)

- 2015: Jerwood Gallery, Hastings

- 2014: Vigo Gallery, London

- 2014: Skoto Gallery, New York

- 2013: Tate Modern, London

- 2012: Katara Cultural Village Foundation, Doha

- 2012: Sharjah Art Museum

- 2011: Skoto Gallery, New York

- 2010: Rashid Diab Arts Centre, Khartoum

- 2000: Dara Art Gallery, Khartoum

- 1992: Savannah Gallery, London

- 1984 & 1990: Iwalewa Haus, Contemporary African Art Centre, Bayreuth

- 1974: Art Gallery of the National Council for Arts and Letters, Kuwait

- 1972: Agisymba Gallery, Berlin

- 1967 & 1969: French Cultural Centre, Khartoum

- 1967: Traverse Gallery, Edinburgh

- 1967: Galerie Lambert, Paris

- 1966: Carl Durisberg, Munich

- 1964: Daberkow Gallery, Frankfurt

- 1964: Irvington-on-Hudson, New York

- 1963: Murphy Gallery, Baltimore

- 1963: Middle East House, Washington DC

- 1963: ICA Gallery, London

- 1962: Galerie Lambert, Paris

- 1962: American Cultural Centre, Khartoum

- 1961: Mbari Gallery, Ibadan

- 1960: Grand Hotel Exhibition Hall, Khartoum

Group shows:

- 2011-12: Meem Gallery, Dubai

- 2010: Interventions & Sajjil, Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha

- 2010: Tradition of the Future, Future of Tradition', Haus der Kunst, Munich

- 2010: Selections 2010, Skoto Gallery, New York

- 2010: Doha Capital of Arab Culture, Qatar

- 2004: The Oxford Show, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford

- 2004: Sudan Past and Present, The British Museum, London

- 2003: Asylum Years, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford

- 2001-02: The Short Century, Museum Villa Stuck, Munich; Haus der Kulturen der West, Berlin; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Museum of Modern Art, New York

- 2001: 20th Anniversary of Iwalewa Haus, Bayreuth

- 2001: Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis, Tate Modern, London

- 2000: L'Afrique á Jour, Lille

- 2000: Contemporary Sudanese Art, Oriental Museum, Durham

- 2000: Blackness in Colour, Howard Johnson Art Museum, Cornell University, Ithaca

- 1999: Sharjah International Arts Biennale

- 1999: Contemporary Sudanese Art, Cardiff

- 1998: Art sans Frontières, Maison de l'UNESCO, Salle Miro, Paris

- 1996: Malmö Konststhall, Malmö

- 1995: Africa 95: Seven Stories of Art from Africa, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London

- 1995: Sharjah International Arts Biennale

- 1994: Savannah Gallery, London

- 1992: Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne

- 1991: A Grain of Wheat: Art Relief from Africa, England

- 1991: Paradox of the New: Art from Africa, England

- 1978: Maison de la Culture, André Malraux, Rheims

- 1977: Festac, Lagos

- 1976: Bab Elloog Art Gallery, Cairo

- 1975: Georgetown University Hall, Washington, DC

- 1975: African Art Then and Now, Royal Commonwealth Society, London

- 1974: Khartoum Art Gallery, Khartoum

- 1974: Museum of African Art, Washington DC

- 1974: Arab Cultural Week, University of Tubingen

- 1971: Africa Centre, London

- 1970: Trinity College, Dublin

- 1970: Abgeordneten Hochhaus des Deutschen Bundestages, Bonn

- 1969: Islamic Art Exhibition, Nommo Gallery, Kampala

- 1969: Pan-African Cultural Festival, Algiers

- 1969: Contemporary Art in Africa, Camden Arts Centre, London

- 1967: Contemporary Art in Africa, ICA Gallery, London

- 1966: Museum of Philadelphia Civic Centre, Philadelphia

- 1965: Museum of Modern Art, New York

- 1964: Sudan Pavilion, World Fair, New York

- 1963: Academy of Fine Art, Calcutta

Fellowships and awards:

- 2015: Honorary Doctor of Literature (DLit), University College London

- 2005-07 & 2009: Visiting Artist, Cornell University, Ithaca NY

- 2004: Festival International des Arts Plastiques des Mahrès, gold medal

- 2001: Prince Claus Fund Award

- 1999: Honorary Award, Sharjah International Arts Biennale

- 1975: Order of Knowledge, Arts and Letters of Democratic Republic of Sudan: silver

- 1971: Order of Knowledge of Democratic Republic of Sudan: gold

- 1964-65: Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship

- 1962: UNESCO Fine Arts Fellowship

Education:

- 1945-48: Wadi Seidna Secondary School

- 1949-51: School of Design, Gordon Memorial College, Khartoum, and Art Department, Khartoum Technical Institute: general art course majoring in painting

- 1954-57: The Slade School, University College, London: painting and calligraphy

- 1964-65: Department of Journalism, Columbia University, New York: black and white photography

- 1975: The Sudanese Academy for Administrative Sciences: top management programme

- 1985: School of Economic Science, London: practical philosophy

- 1999-2001: School of Economic Science, Oxford: practical philosophy

Employment:

- 1952-54: Demonstrator, Art Department, Khartoum Technical Institute

- 1957-59: Lecturer, Painting Department, School of Fine & Applied Art, Khartoum Technical Institute

- 1960-66: Tutor and Head of Painting Department, Khartoum Technical Institute

- 1967-69: Principal Lecturer at the School of Fine and Applied Art, Khartoum Polytechnic

- 1969-72: Assistant Cultural Attaché, Sudan Embassy, London

- 1972-73: Director General of Culture, Sudan Government

- 1973-76: Undersecretary, Ministry of Culture and Information, Sudan Government

- 1977-80: Expert Adviser, Department of Press and Publications, Ministry of Information, Qatar

- 1980-82: Expert, Office of the Undersecretary, Ministry of Information, Qatar

- 1984-85: UNESCO Consultant to the Ministry of Information and National Guidance, Somalia

- 1986-89: Expert, International Information Relations Committee of the Arab Gulf States; Adviser to the Undersecretary, Ministry of Information and Culture, Qatar

- 1989-97: Translator and Biographer, The Amir's Office, Diwan Amiri, Qatar

- 1997-98: Translator, Political Department, Diwan Amiri, Qatar

Other cultural activities:

- 1959: Member of Sudan Cultural Delegation to China

- 1966: Head of Sudan Delegation to the First Festival of African Culture, Dakar

- 1969: Member of Committee for the Study of Arab Culture, UNESCO, Paris

- 1969: Member of Sudan Cultural Delegation to the First Pan-African Cultural Festival, Algiers

- 1972-73: Established the Department of Culture, Sudan Government

- 1973: Sudan Representative to Foundation Conference, General Association of Arab Artists, Baghdad

- 1973 & 1974: External Examiner, Art Department, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda

- 1984: External Examiner, College of Fine and Applied Art, Khartoum Polytechnic, Sudan

- 1972-76: Secretary General, National Council for Arts and Letters, Sudan

- 1974-75: Head of Sudan Delegation to Permanent Committee of Arab Information, Arab League

- 1979: Media Co-ordinator for the State Visit of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II to the State of Qatar

- 1980: Head of Preparatory and Executive Committees and the Secretariat Office of the Fifth Conference of Ministers of Information in the Arab Gulf States

- 1980-82: Member, Qatar Delegation to Permanent Committee for Arab Information, Arab League

- 1981: Member, Qatar Delegation to 3rd Conference of Arab Ministers for Cultural Affairs, Baghdad

- 1982: Delegate representing International Information Relations Committee of Arab Gulf States at the ministerial preparatory meeting for Arab Summit Conference in Fez, Morocco

- 1984: Delegate, International Press Seminar, Paris

- 1988-89: Editor, English section of Al-Mathurat Al-Shabiyyah magazine, published by The Arab Gulf States Folklore Centre, Qatar

- 1998: Participant, seminar 'Visions of African Cultural Co-operation and Development', UNESCO Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies, Stockholm, Sweden

- 1998: Participant, Symposium of the 7th Cairo Biennale

- 1999: Participant, Muscat Forum for Arab Fine Arts

- 2000: Member of 'Africa in Venice' Permanent Committee, New York

- 2000: Participant, Fifth International Conference on Sudan Studies, Durham University, UK

- 2000: Participant, Conference on 'State of Visual Arts in Africa and the African Diaspora: Agenda for the 21st Century', Paris

- 2000: Participant, Colloquium l'Afrique en Créations, Lille, France

- 2001: Member, Board of Directors, Forum for African Arts 2000-

- 2001: Participant, Colloquium International Festival of Plastic Arts, Al-Mahras, Tunisia

- 2009: Participant, second Pan African Cultural Festival, Algiers

- 2009-President, Sudan Studies Association UK

*****

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