Ibrahim El Salahi's art, situated between Islamic textuality, African plastic forms, and transnational modernism, is distinctive in developing an aesthetic of decolonization for the Sudan and much of Africa. However, it can be usefully compared with other modernist artists from the Muslim world, who, working in the diverse region that encompasses North Africa, the Middle East, and western and southern Asia between 1955 and 1975, contributed to a movement that transformed calligraphy into modern art. Mostly without direct knowledge of each other's work, El Salahi in the Sudan, Sadequain Naqqash in Pakistan, Charles-Hossein Zenderoudi in Iran, Shakir Hassan Al Sa'id in Iraq, and many others created a new aesthetic language of calligraphic figuration and abstraction. Their groundbreaking artistic projects can be understood in a variety of ways: as individual and subjective expressions, as enacting a dialogue with nationalism, and as a critical engagement with metropolitan modernism and cosmopolitanism. Their works also reconnect with the discursive tradition of Islam that cuts across temporality and geography, thereby propelling this body of work into the present. Their practices mapped local and regional referents together, and by sidestepping direct political motifs their work contributed to the rise of broader Muslim aspirations by furnishing aesthetic and affective templates. Having enacted textuality in pointedly “nonpolitical” articulations, the calligraphic modernist project has relayed its effects well into the present.

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