ElShafei is a sculptor, photographer, painter, and installation artist with a special interest in sound. His work is noted for its political engagement with different world cultures and has been celebrated for its capacity to create solidarity among communities and peoples across political, cultural, and racial differences.
ElShafei's journey with art began at age thirteen, when he was recognized as a videographer. At age nineteen, he had his first solo exhibit which included sculpture, drawing, and calligraphy. At age twenty-four, he was elected a member of the Sudanese Artists Association Executive Committee. His work also includes documentation of the lives and cultures of the Umbororo, a nomadic group in Sudan that hosted him for two years. In addition, he documented the life histories of more than fifty Sudanese artists through photographs and biographies for the African Studies Center at Cornell University.
In 2001, Elshafei moved to the United States, arriving just in time to participate in a major exhibition of Sufi and Muslim artists in New York City in the wake of the September 11 attacks. In 2004, he was awarded a Visiting Artist Residency at the Center for Afro-American and African Studies and the School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan, where he was awarded a fellowship to pursue his Master of Fine Arts in 2005. In 2007, he was awarded the University of Michigan's Martin Luther King Spirit Award, and his experiences traveling with the Umbororo in Sudan led to a public sculpture installation, called “Umbororo Crossing,” which won him the Golden Paintbrush Award from the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2008. That same year he graduated with a Master of Fine Arts, and his installation “Delirium” was selected for exhibition at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing.
Elshafei has participated in more than fifty exhibits worldwide, and his work is part of public and private collections in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the United States. He continues to lecture and to exhibit his work, holding artist residencies, participating in community building activities, and creating performative installation events around the U.S. and internationally.