Artist Hussein Salim’s journey to find his place in the world

Mary Corrigall

Very little has been written about the artist Hussein Salim. It is surprising given he has been exhibiting frequently in South Africa, his artworks sell out at art fairs and in London-based auctions and they present a unique abstract aesthetic. 


The fifty-something Sudanese artist attributes the paucity of texts about him to his terrible grasp of English. He has shied away from interviews. In truth, the unique turn of phrases he utters and his economy of language in relaying the essence of his life journey — there are no spare words for idle chatter — add to his charm and make his story more compelling. 


In some ways it is a familiar story. Far too many African artists have had to leave their native countries to become and remain artists. However, the way in which Salim has found success and acceptance in a country with a reputation for xenophobia — largely targeted at African nationals — is refreshing. Uplifting even.


His largest solo exhibition in South Africa, The Garden of Carnal Delights, which opened at the Melrose Gallery in Johannesburg last week, presents a landmark of sorts. It is the culmination of a series of fortuitous twists and turns since he left his home town in Sudan in the late nineties.


On paper Salim was not in any way destined to be an artist. Born into a poor family of 13 children, there was pressure on him to pursue a stable income and career.

13 May 2021