Cairo, Egypt 1938
A group of 37 women and men
including artists, writers and thinkers
signed a manifesto titled
“Long live degenerate art!”
“We stand absolutely as one with the so-called degenerate art
denounced by Hitler’s Nazi party”, they declared.
“The works of these artists are actually the product of the ultimate
in freedom, strength and human feeling.
Art must be free from the artificial boundaries created by politicians”
This manifesto marked the start of the group known as Art and Liberty.
They were furious with the injustices in Europe as well as at home.
The Egyptian government under British political influence
supported thousands of foreign soldiers stationed in Cairo
but did nothing for Egyptian citizens living in poverty.
Art and Liberty watched the gap between the rich and the poor grow larger and larger.
It was time to speak out,
and surrealism was their voice.
Art and Liberty used surrealism to rebel against
the Establishment who suppressed freedom in the name of tradition and rationality.
They made works that were challenging to look at
and rejected political propaganda.
When the Egyptian government tried to promote
heroic images of ancient pharaohs as a symbol of national power,
photographer Ida Kar turned this idea on its heads
and made pharaohs look like ordinary objects.
Surrealism also expressed Art and Liberty’s anger
about social and economic inequality.
The painter Mayo used shapes and forms to represent
violence and police brutality
while Inji Efflatoun and AmyNimr painted
trapped, twisted or transformed bodies
to highlight the suffering of women forced into sex work by war and poverty.
But the surrealist art created by Art and Liberty
was not identical to the art created in Europe.
To address the problems in Egypt required a unique
type of Egyptian surrealism argued the painter Ramses Younan.
He called it “subjectiverealism”
While European surrealism was divided between exploring the symbolic
like Salvador Dali’s dream-like landscapes
or revealing the unconscious
like Joan Miro’s automatic paintings
Subjective Realism brought the two together
and allowed Egyptian surrealists
to delve into their unconscious
as well as Egyptian symbols, landscapes and culture.
Art and Liberty quickly found supporters
in the international surrealism movements
through the likes of the American photographer Lee Miller
who was living in Cairo and had connections to England and Europe.
she circulated writings from aboard
and witnessed the development of Egyptian surrealism.
Art and Liberty continued until 1948
and by that time, they were one part in a huge global
and still-growing network of surrealists
Until now the most famous surrealist artists have all been European.
But in reality surrealism united artists across the world
In cities like Tokyo, Havana and Mexico City,
在东京 哈瓦那 墨西哥等城市
artists were using surrealist ideas to challenge the establishment and authorities
on how to live, think and make art.
Like Art and Liberty in Cairo,
they were doing surrealism in their own way.