Salah Elmur: Studio Kamal

Circle Art Gallery, 24 April to 24 May 2019

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Salah Elmur (Sudanese, born 1966)

Salah Elmur’s work is composed from 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.

In Studio Kamal he presents works informed by the so-named photo studio, which was set up in Khartoum by his father and grandfather. While this studio was closed before Elmur’s birth, the story of Studio Kamal and the extensive archive of photographs and negatives is have gone on to contribute in exciting ways to Salah Elmur’s practice. The works in this show reference family and personal portraits, photos taken for use in government-issue identity cards, and general photographs. These are set within a fictional studio, incorporating elements such as painted backdrops, curtains on either side of the frame, checkered floor patterns, which directly reference that tradition of studio photography.

Furthermore, Elmur introduces 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, growing shyly from the body, 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 relations.

Salah Elmur originally studied Graphic Design at the College of Fine and Applied Art, Sudan University, Khartoum. With a career spanning three decades, Elmur has participated in group and solo exhibitions in East Africa, the Middle East and Europe and America. Elmur has also published 12 children’s books, and is a successful film maker, 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.

Most recently, Elmur’s work was featured Forests and Spirits, an exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London alongside two luminaries of Sudanese modernism, Kamala Ishaq and Ibrahim El Salahi. His work is collected widely, and is included in the permanent collection of the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL) in Marrakech.

Studio Kamal is Elmur’s first major exhibition in Nairobi since 2014.