Pain is an inherent part and parcel of human experience. It can be difficult to measure or make visible. Although words can be restrictive, art can provide a way for people in pain to express their feelings and trigger empathy. Such is the case with Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi’s exhibition at the Drawing Center,Pain Relief Drawings. The exhibition features over 100 drawings. It combines Sudanese culture, poetry, European modernism and surrealism. These drawings are very small and were created on the backs medication packets, pill bottles labels, and mail. These tiny pieces of paper float between the artist’s personal struggle and cultural identity.
El-Salahi’s Pain Relief Drawings The artist was suffering from intense pain in 2016, and began to draw. El-Salahi saw art as a way to relieve his discomfort. He began to draw on the backs all of the drug packets and mail piled up around. Art was a part of his faith and helped him cope with the stress. El-Salahi believes that one cannot exist without the other.
These scraps yield an intricate and powerful combination of symbols, text and lines as well as shapes and shapes. Inspired by the materials, El-Salahi draws faces and figures — some evoking John Singer Sargent, others Egyptian hieroglyphics — inside lines of UK postage stamps, as a potential nod to British colonialism in Africa. El-Salahi also uses indented braille dots to create lines of Arabic poetry and prayer.
These drawings lack a beginning and an end. They feel like thoughts in progress, feelings that the artist is trying understand. We are just passive observers to his struggle. While we may have strong sympathy for the artist’s affliction, we will never know what his pain feels like, but here we can catch a glimpse of its process.
Ibrahim El-Salahi: Pain Relief Drawings The Drawing Center (35 Wooster St, Soho Manhattan) continues through January 15. Laura Hoptman organized the exhibition.
8 January 2023