Museo Reina Sofía Opens Major Survey of Egyptian Surrealist Group

The Art et Liberté Group challenged fascist and nationalist ideals during World War II.

Mayo, Coups de Bâtons (1937). Courtesy ©Annunciata Galleria d'arte, Milan.

The first major survey of the Art et Liberté Group, a collective of Egyptian Surrealists formed during World War II, opened to the public yesterday at the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid.

The exhibition, which has traveled from the Centre Pompidou in Paris, was organized by the curators Till Fellrath and Sam Bardaouil. Gathering 200 artworks and archival materials from the late 1920s to the early 1950s, the show took five years to be put together.

“Art et Liberté: Rupture, War and Surrealism in Egypt (1938-48)” follows the history and production of the Surrealist-inspired group composed of artists, intellectuals, and political activists dedicated to challenging fascism, nationalism, and colonialism.

With many of their ideals parallel to other international surrealist movements, the group used Pablo Picasso’s Guernica as the cover of their first manifesto, Vive l’art dégénéré (Long Live Degenerate Art), on December 22, 1938, in solidarity with the Spanish people and artists.

Founded by Georges Henein, Ramses Younan, Kamel El-Telmissany, and Fouad Kamel, the group emerged onto the Cairo arts scene during a period marked by intense economic inequality and the rise of the fascist ideology in Europe, with the start of the Second World War and Egypt’s colonial rule by the British Empire.

Through works of distorted and fragmented figures, the collective challenged art’s conflation with nationalism and idealized classism.

Members of the Art et Liberté Group (1945). Photo courtesy of Christophe Boueleau, Ginebra.

Members of the Art et Liberté Group (1945). Photo courtesy of Christophe Boueleau, Ginebra.

The group championed a new type of Surrealism, “Subjective Realism,” coined by member Ramses Younan, in which recognizable symbols were intentionally placed into works that were initially dealing with the subconscious impulse.

As part of the Art Reoriented initiative, founded by the curators, the show continues the critical dialogue of challenging conventional historiographical classifications by exhibiting the various distinct forms of modernity, such as Egyptian modernism.

Art et Liberté: Rupture, War and Surrealism in Egypt (1938-48)” is on view at Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid, from February 14 – May 28, 2017.

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