You’ve been creating art for over 50 years—has it changed since you started?
It changes continuously, same as I change! Same as my body changes, same as the world around me changes. Everyone is in travel continuously throughout time. I am one of them.
You’ve been around the world—you studied art at the School of Design at Gordon Memorial College and the Slade School of Fine Art at University College in London, but you always returned to Sudan. When most people think of Sudan, do they think ‘modern art’?
I know, I know. The whole thing about art is that it’s individual. It could be the kind that could be grouped, the culture, the background, this and that and so on. That has an element, but the individual is the one that really matters, the individual is the one who has to coil up things and get them all together and put them through to you.
Your work combines African and Arabic themes and ideas—how do you do that?
Well I am a human being, I have eyes, and I’ve got a little bit of a brain, and I acquire whatever I see, whether locally or abroad. And I live between the two. I studied art history, so of the world and I keep trying to keep what I’ve learned and develop it in such a way to bring it out. It’s a human kind of link.’
What inspires you?
Well, human beings. I’m very much concerned with the human condition. Everywhere, not just in our own society, but everywhere. I think about it—I’m very much touched by the people who have not, the have nots. The people who can’t reach the ceiling. Yet at the same time I care a great deal about human dignity, and the place they come, the prisons of the human being, of the self, I’m dealing with this. I care a great deal about this. But that’s to do with how you can present what is within to the without.’
So you’ve said you want people to experience your work with all their senses—you want them to ‘hear’ your art?
I mess with the senses. I want the world that’s seeing to be heard, and the one that’s to be heard to be seen. Hearing comes first because it’s not affected by light, and viewing, seeing, which is limited by light. So between the two, that is not limited by light, and the one which is limited by light, comes the answer of the human being.
What do you want viewers to take away from your work?
To understand themselves. I believe the future is only a mirror that reflects to you what is within yourself, and takes you to yourself to start to mediate. That’s all I ask. No more, no less.
You’ve lived in Qatar, after you had to leave Sudan. Why is it so important to bring art like this to Qatar?
The artist deals with three bodies. Deals with the self, otherwise the work would never come out. Secondly, he deals with others around in his own society, in his own culture, in his own neighborhood, in his own family. Thirdly, all. So the self, others, and all—all is the human beings, whoever it might be. And this is because we take a great deal. We take things from everywhere, and we borrow a great deal from nature, from the society we live in, from different societies we travel to. What we take, we have to give back in kind!
Ibrahim El-Salahi: A Visionary Modernist runs until November 27 at Katara Gallery, Building 22, Katara Cultural Village. Entrance is free. For more information, contact email@example.com.