Surrealism in Egypt

A couple of weeks ago I heard a piece on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row (still available here) about an exhibition at Tate Liverpool, on until March next year, which highlights the surrealist movement in Egypt and the associated Art et Liberté group.

Our copy of the related exhibition catalogue is in French (Art et Liberté: rupture, guerre et surréalisme en Égypte (1938-1948)S950.a.201.5158) as the exhibition started off last year at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. This major exhibition took six years to bring together and features 130 artworks by 37 painters, along with 200 archival documents. By August next year it will have been seen in five different locations: Paris, Madrid, Düsseldorf, Liverpool and Stockholm. The exhibition catalogue has been produced in five languages, French, Spanish, German, English and Arabic, but not Swedish (I think Stockholm was perhaps a later addition to the tour as it is not included in the itinerary given in the catalogue).

As well as the exhibition catalogue, Surrealism in Egypt: modernism and the Art and Liberty group (405:5.b.201.4) by Sam Bardaouil, one of the co-curators of the exhibition, is an academic monograph which presents the research on which the exhibition is based. This book also won the 2017 Book Prize award of the Modernist Studies Association.

At each of the five host museums the exhibition is being adjusted to ensure that its focus is relevant to the environment in which it is being viewed. So in Paris it was timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the death of André Breton; in Madrid it was shown alongside Picasso’s Guernica, a famous painting denounced by the Nazis as degenerate and reproduced in the 1938 manifesto “Long live degenerate art” which launched the Art et Liberté group; in Düsseldorf this manifesto was given centre stage to emphasise the solidarity of the group with artists condemned as “degenerate” by the Nazis; and in Stockholm the exhibition will focus on relationships the group had with leading surrealist figures in Sweden and links between the Moderna Museet and Marcel Duchamps.

At the Liverpool stage of the exhibition connections with British Surrealism are explored – the leading Surrealist, Roland Penrose, was introduced to the Group by his lover, the photographer Lee Miller, who went on to become his wife. To find out more about Lee Miller’s time in Egypt and her connections with surrealism, Lee Miller: photography, surrealism, and beyond by Patricia Allmer (705:7.c.201.169) is useful.

One of the important founders of the Art et Liberté group whose work is featured in the exhibition is the writer Georges Henein. His various poems and prose works are collected in Œuvres: poésies, récits, essais, articles et pamphlets (736:45.c.200.26)

Katharine Dicks

One thought on “Surrealism in Egypt

  1. Thanks to Jean Khalfa who pointed out the connection with Arturo Shwartz, perhaps the greatest dealer and collector of Dada and Surrealist Art, who was born in Egypt where he set up a bookstore. He discovered Surrealism through the Egyptian Surrealist group and Trotskyist friends and “republished” some works in collaboration with Duchamp and Breton. See also Love at first sight : the Vera, Silvia, and Arturo Schwarz collection of Israeli Art (400:6.c.200.16)

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