Art et Liberté : Egypt’s Surrealists | by Charles Shafaieh | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books
In March 1938, the Egyptian poet and critic Georges Henein and a small group of friends disrupted a lecture in Cairo given by the Alexandria-born Italian Futurist F.T. Marinetti, who was an outspoken supporter of Mussolini. Six months later, Henein, along with the Egyptian writer Anwar Kamel, the Italian anarchist painter Angelo de Riz, and thirty-four other artists, writers, journalists, and lawyers, signed the manifesto “Vive l’Art Dégénéré!” (“Long Live Degenerate Art!”) that would inaugurate Art et Liberté, a short-lived but influential artists’ collective based in Egypt that is the focus of an illuminating exhibition currently at the Tate Liverpool, in Britain, covering the years 1938–1948. Printed in Arabic and French, with a facsimile of Guernica on its reverse, the declaration was a direct challenge to the previous year’s Nazi-organized exhibition “Entartete ‘Kunst’” (“Degenerate ‘Art’”), which presented art by Chagall, Kandinsky and other modern artists, largely Jewish, that the Nazi Party deemed decadent, morally reprehensible or otherwise harmful to the German people.
Internationalist in orientation and opposed as much to fascist-endorsed art as to the Egyptian academy’s own nationalist-minded aesthetics that resurrected ancient symbols in the name of “Egyptianness,” the group declared that it was “mere idiocy and folly to reduce modern art… to a fanaticism for any particular religion, race, or nation.” Surrealism—in its rejection of tyranny in any form and by championing uninhibited freedom of expression—was a fitting counterpoint that the group believed could also be harnessed to bring about social change.