Art Dubai 2020: Salah Elmur and Tahir Karmali

Circle Art Gallery, March/April 2020

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Salah Elmur (Sudanese, b. 1966)

Salah Elmur’s work is composed of a fertile visual vocabulary that draws on his observations of life, returning to childhood and youth for the scenes, situations, and impressions that he depicts in his work. Heavy symbolism, a tendency towards vivid colour combinations, and distortion of natural figures and proportions are some of the markers of Elmur’s painting.

Inspired by the many photographs he has collected from his family’s photography studio, Elmur’s paintings emulate formal portrait settings with additional elements that complement but also unsettle the mood in his paintings. Plants and animals share the frame with the human subjects, limbs are shortened and proportions are distorted, altering the relationships between various objects and figures in the frame. All these elements are combined in a somewhat surrealistic swirl of memory, and the resulting paintings are tender, intimate vignettes of human relationships.

Salah Elmur originally studied Graphic Design at the College of Fine and Applied Art, Sudan University, Khartoum. With a career spanning three decades, he has participated in group and solo exhibitions in East Africa, the Middle East, Europe and America since 1985. Elmur has also published 12 children’s books and is a successful filmmaker; directing six short documentaries and fantasy films, which have been shown at international film festivals. In February 2018, the Sharjah Art Museum in the UAE held Fragrances of the Forest and Photos, a retrospective of Elmur’s work, followed by Forests and Spirits, an exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London alongside two luminaries of Sudanese modernism, Kamala Ishaaq, and Ibrahim El Salahi. He participated in a group exhibition at the British National Museum and his work is collected widely and is included in the permanent collection of the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL) in Marrakech and the Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF).

Tahir Karmali (Kenya, b. 1987)

Tahir Karmali received a Masters in Digital Photography from the School of Visual Arts in NY in 2015. He has participated in numerous workshops and exhibited widely, including: Tracing Obsolescence, Apexart, New York, 2018; Immigrant Artists and the American West, Tacoma Art Museum, Washington, 2018; New Threads, Circle Art Gallery, Nairobi, 2018; Biennal Forografica Bogota, 2017, Bogota, Columbia and PAPER:work, Pioneer Works, New York, 2017. Karmali’s work has featured in the Addis Foto Fest, Lagos Photo Festival. In 2019, he was one of the artists commissioned to create work following the inaugural Open Call for The Shed Museum in New York.

Karmali’s practice focuses on the transformation of objects and materials by global economic flows. He draws on his observations of these, as well as his own physical experience of moving through international borders and cultural spheres. Paradise (his new body of work) is a new and on-going body of work in which Karmali engages with time and memory and his experience of migration. Combining screen-printing and dyeing techniques, Karmali creates atmospheric compositions built up from personal photographs, which evoke the humidity and ecosystem of his mother’s memory of her native Seychelles islands. Abstract from a distance, with the image appearing only upon close inspection, the Paradise series possess a dreamlike quality, transporting the viewer to a time and place long past, both real and imaginary.

“Paradise is at the feet of the mother.” – Prophet Mohamed ﷺ

Living away from home for so long has somehow made me feel that who I am and where I come from appear like a fantasy. However, there are moments when the humidity, the greenery, the air, and the sun would match a certain memory – and with a deep breath, I am transported to a time long passed. This lets me know it was real that my life was real. It feels like a glimmer of paradise, an unattainable ideal, a warm embrace.

In this series, I wanted to create this feeling using color to distort the screen printed image against the dyed raw canvas. The effect of this pairing allows the image to be understood in the distance and abstracted the closer you come to the canvas. Similar to waking from a dream about home and how it disappears when you try to get close to it.

The images are photographs of my mother in Seychelles, her home country, taken by my father. The decision to use them was inspired by the Hadith (saying from the Prophet Mohamed ﷺ) and the idyllic landscape of my mothers home. These works are made from cruelty-free organic canvas that are stained with natural dyes then screen printed with the least environmentally invasive techniques.