Art et Liberté: Rupture, War and Surrealism in Egypt (1938–1948) is the first comprehensive museum exhibition about the Art and Liberty Group (Art et Liberté – jama’at al-fann wal hurriyyah), a surrealist collective of artists, writers, and political activists living and working in Cairo between the late 1930s and late 1940s.
Founded on December 22, 1938 upon the publication of their manifesto Long Live Degenerate Art, the Group provided a restless generation of women and men of various social, ethnic and religious backgrounds, Egyptian and non-Egyptian alike, with a heterogeneous platform for cultural and political reform. At the dawn of the Second World War and during Egypt’s colonial rule by the British Empire, Art et Liberté was globally engaged in its defiance of Fascism, Nationalism and Colonialism. The Group played an active role within an international network of surrealist writers and artists spanning cities such as Paris, London, Mexico City, Santiago de Chile, New York, Beirut and Tokyo. Through their own definition of Surrealism, they achieved a contemporary literary and pictorial language that was as much globally engaged as it was rooted in local artistic and political concerns. Moving beyond the polarizing dichotomies of Saïdian Orientalism and post-colonial discourse, this exhibition sheds light on Art et Liberté’s negotiation of Surrealism, expanding our understanding of modernism at large, and advocating an inclusive vision of art history.
The preparatory academic and field research for the exhibition was conducted over 6 years, with hundreds of field interviews and consultations of archival collections and library holdings worldwide. For the exhibition, around 130 artworks and 200 archival documents were selected from over 50 private and public collections in 13 countries. Most of these hitherto unknown artworks and documents are publicly seen for the first time. In preparation for the exhibition tour, many of the objects were part of a comprehensive restoration project to ensure the lasting preservation of the Group’s artistic and intellectual legacy. In reuniting these artworks and documents for the first time, this historic exhibition charts a precise chronology and offers an all-encompassing presentation of Art et Liberté.
Mohammad Abdel Latif, Khalil Abduh, Salim Al-Habschi, Hussein Youssef Amin, Anonymous, Eric de Nemes, Angelo de Riz, Inji Efflatoun, Abdel Hadi El-Gazzar, Hassan El-Telmisani, Kamel El-Telmisany, Mamdouh Muhamad Fathallah, Thierry Formintelli, Georges Henein, Idabel, Ida Kar, Fouad Kamel, Abduh Khalil, Mahmoud Khalil, Ibrahim Massouda, Mayo, Robert Medley, Lee Miller, Hamed Nada, Amy Nimr, Roland Penrose, Maher Raef, Samir Rafi, Mahmoud Saïd, Laurent-Marcel Salinas, Saroukhan, Ahmed Sawwan, Rateb Seddik, Etienne Sved, Van Leo, Ramsès Younane, and Ramzi Zolqomah