The Double Game of Egyptian Surrealism: How to Curate a Revolutionary Movement

Jonathan Guyer and Surti Singh in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

PhpThumb_generated_thumbnail"We find absurd, and deserving of total disdain, the religious, racist, and nationalist prejudices that make up the tyranny of certain individuals who, drunk on their own temporary omniscience, seek to subjugate the destiny of the work of art.” So wrote 37 Egypt-based artists and writers in their 1938 manifesto Long Live Degenerate Art, expressing solidarity with their counterparts in Europe suffering under fascism. This was the beginning of the Art and Liberty Group, an avant-garde movement also known as Egypt’s Surrealists.

“Modern art in Egypt was always a pale copy and a delayed copy,” says the contemporary Egyptian painter Adel El Siwi, “but for the first time in our history, we have this very rare moment where what was going on in Paris was in parallel to other things going on in Cairo.” The Art and Liberty Group forged connections with Surrealists and Trotskyists abroad while shaping their own identity. Working in tandem with their European peers, they also grappled with the circumstances of an increasingly militarized Egyptian capital, where trends in art and publishing remained conservative. They responded to the fault lines of interwar Cairo and were of a piece with them.

By the time of the 1952 Free Officers’ coup in Egypt, which led to the presidency of Gamal Abdel Nasser and the rise of a new Egyptian nationalism and later pan-Arabism, the members of the Art and Liberty Group had been dispersed: many were exiled or imprisoned.

More here.