by Avinoam Shalem

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The question of modernity in the radical sense of
the word, in its wish for the rejection of the past,
creation of a clear distinction between nature and
science, and focus on individual freedom, seems
to be of major interest to the Egyptian intellec-
tual milieu in the late 1930s and the 1940s. One
of the important artists of the time and a found-
ing member of the newly created Egyptian sur-
realist group Art et Liberté, Ramsis Younan, set
up with transparent language the whole staging
platform, so to speak, for the modern debate
in the postcolonial Egyptian context. In a 1956
article, he argues:
It is often said that modern art became
international as a result of colonialism,
which culturally as well as militarily invades
the colonized countries, thus destroying
their traditions and their arts. However, we
should realize that modern European art
had been influenced by Eastern and African
arts before any Eastern or African artist was
influenced by European art. Therefore, cul-
tural invasion is not the issue. It is rather
cultural response. . . .
True Egyptian art will not exist unless our
past heritage is allowed to react with the international heritage. . . .
we should not fear any innovation, no matter how extreme it may be,
for those who fight innovation under the pretext of protecting our
national identity reveal the weakness of their faith in its potential for
It is obvious that from a sociocultural point of view the term modern
and its implications have formed, shaped, and even dictated the collective
identity of the twentieth century. Therefore, it is critical to address ques-
tions relating to the birth of this term, its assessment, and the manipula-
tive methods and mechanisms of its use, application, and adaptation. As
far as Africa and Asia are concerned, the discourse of modernism within
the postcolonial context seems to be unavoidable.2
Moreover, its role in the Eastern and Western European bloc conflicts and in the North Ameri-
can post–World War II era is highly central. So who has the right to claim
modernity? Is it an exclusively Western phenomenon, tightly woven into
the formation of the intellectual history of Europe? Does it take other forms
in former colonial/postcolonial contexts, and if so, under which parame-
ters should it be examined? Is translation theory the only applicable device
with which to discuss modernity in non- European spheres? How can we
avoid Western binary thinking as related to the Other? Are terms such as
center and margin useful for defining postcolonial phenomenology? Or—of
course very cautiously and by clearly rejecting any insinuation or allusion
to racist theories—should bioevolutionary theories, in which modernity is
compared to a germ or a seed transplanted in a particular embryo or a pla-
cental rudiment, be employed?3
Interesting as these questions might be, this essay does not take the chal-
lenging macro perspective while discussing modernity in the postcolonial
zone but rather the micro view. The focus here is a particular moment
in the history of Egypt, in which a modern supplement (rather, injection)
was slipped into the blood of the Egyptian national identity—specifically,
several drawings and paintings by the modern Egyptian artist Abdel Hadi
Al- Gazzar. These works of art illustrate, I think, a particular zeitgeist in
the Egyptian artistic milieu and mirror Al- Gazzar’s individual and genu-
ine artistic response to the utopian and almost mythical status given to
surrealism in the first half of the twentieth century. In addition, his works
will be dealt with as a reflection of the changing sociopolitical context in
Egypt at the end of the 1940s and during the 1950s. Al- Gazzar writes:
“Surrealism implies a serious contradiction between form and content. It
presents illogical ideas and dreams in logical forms and elements. The for-
mation and drawing are precise and realistic and retain nothing of surreal-
ism except the arrangement of its elements. There should be a solution to
this contradiction. Either we should reinstate elements of realistic forms to
their real and logical places in the painting or develop form in a way suited
to absurd meanings.”4
These pensive words were offered during the artist’s
1954–55 stay in Rome. The contradiction he discovers between the realistic
approach of rendering nature, which he considers logical, and the illogical
character of dreams and fantasies, which seem to find their visual transla-
tion solely in the arrangement of things in surrealistic pictures, is interest-
ing, if not intriguing. His first idea that realistic painting is logical clearly
shows his Western phenomenological understanding of representation,
in which mimesis takes the main role in the visual translation of nature.
Nonetheless, I would rather leave aside this specific thought and focus on
Al- Gazzar’s particular observation about the contradiction in the surreal-
istic style between form and content, and his aim to find a proper visual
solution to this contradiction, for developing a visual method well suited
for depicting, as he calls it, “absurd meaning.”
Why does he use the word absurd in this context? Does surrealistic paint-
ing have absurd meaning? Is it meaningless? Al- Gazzar could clearly have
used other words to define surrealism apart from transmitting absurd
meaning. Moreover, in his varied writings on art, one is aware of his deep
understanding of surrealism, which he defines as the domain of the artist’s
free imagination and creativity and as the specific sphere in which individu-
alism flourishes.5
It is obvious, then, that there is a gap in Al- Gazzar’s logi-
cal explanation and the process of thinking on the contradiction between
form and content in the surrealist style. Why does he, then, elide other
values and potential meanings of surrealist painting and define it as, or
even reduce it to, absurd meaning?
Al- Gazzar (1925–66) was born in Alexandria. Shortly after his birth, his
family moved to the village of Burma in the center of the Nile Delta, later
settling in a very populated and relatively poor quarter of Cairo near the
Mosque of Sayyida Zeinab. This area, which today retains its premodern
charm, was a place in which Al- Gazzar was constantly confronted with the
lower and poor middle classes of Cairo. In fact this was and still is one of
the liveliest areas of the city. Festivals and streets fairs, such as those of the
Maulid (celebrating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad), are usually held
in the space surrounding the Mosque of Sayyida Zeinab, and the bazaar
located just behind it is the vivid and active urban space of this quarter. It
is likely that Al- Gazzar was confronted daily with the fatalistic approach
to life held by the people of this quarter due to their superstitious beliefs,
often mingled with Muslim devoutness. Here, in this quarter, he was
granted a view into the “heart of darkness” of the Cairene folk. As Liliane
Karnouk writes: “Here, every sort of popular magic is still being practiced:
fortune- telling, purification rituals, collective exorcism. One can imagine,
then, how the son of a conservative religious man and the heir to the previ-
ous generation of surrealist painters began to associate the intuitive aspect
of art, the soul, with the essential element in the popular mystic arts: the
hidden unknown.”6
Painted with gouache and india ink on paper, Al- Gazzar’s 1953 Un djinn
amoureux, found today in the Museum of Fine Arts in Alexandria, is,
despite its relatively small size (measuring only 53 by 28 centimeters), the
Guernica of his oeuvre (see figure 1). The main figure in this painting is
the djinn amoureux, depicted in the form of a lizard. It appears flying on
the right-
hand side of the painting, hovering above the main scene. In both
hands, the jinn holds a crescent, from which emanate several threads that
are fully stretched and affixed to other figures in the painting. This sug-
gests that the jinn controls the entire scene and, like a spider, weaves a web
to dominate the space. A scale is attached to his tail, with two white eggs
on it. The main figure in the painting is a hybrid creature, possibly another
shape into which the jinn has transformed. It has the body of an elongated
quadruped with a female face, the forelegs of a bird of prey, the hind legs
of a human being, and a long tail. Numerous hearts are depicted on its
body, as if to suggest that there are many hearts located in its chest. At first
glance it seems that Al- Gazzar is alluding to the enigmatic sphinx, espe-
cially when one compares the shape of the jinn’s hair to the Great Sphinx
of Giza. At the same time, the image might also bring to mind the Buraq,
the fantastic horse with a woman’s face, on which Muhammad made his
night journey, Mi’raj, and ascended to heaven. This assumption is strength-
ened by the black Egyptian figure depicted lying on the jinn’s back, as if
riding on it, and the Arabic words that appear in the jinn’s hair—huwa,
Allah, ahad (he is God, the Only), namely, there is no God but Allah. The
naked, dark female lying on top seems to be a personification of love and
eros. Her tongue is bound by wire to the mouth of the lizard jinn. Her long
black hair mingles with the tail of the snake crawling beneath. This snake
appears to be attacking a small white quadruped. On the left, a woman sits
crossed- legged and raises her arms as if praying. An owl appears on her
raised left hand. The whole composition suggests a mixture of rival forces,
as if a struggle among eros, life, love, knowledge, and religious devotion
takes place in Al- Gazzar’s mind.
The fantastic inner world of Al- Gazzar’s thoughts, emotions, fears, and
wishes is depicted in Un djinn amoureux, both in image and in word. The
written text on the far left reads, in part:

A jinn lover is lost in the seas
He washes his sins in the dust of life.
Ranting for no reason beneath him a well
His upper part is his libido
Planted in the valley of sleep. . . .
One after another
Greet him.
Peace be upon the House of Peace.7

The metaphorical text and its illogical syntax are reflected in the unusual
mixture of and intricate relationships among the varied motifs. The sur-
face on which these symbols are depicted recalls a rectangular Pharaonic
panel of stone on which signs and symbols were inscribed, scratched, and
Al- Gazzar’s preparatory drawing on cardboard for this painting illumi-
nates the interpretation of the final painting (see figure 2). In contrast to
the painting, the central figure in the drawing is the jinn, depicted as a fan-
tastic figure with a monster’s face. Al- Gazzar alludes to the naked woman
on the jinn’s back in the accompanying text: “His upper part is his libido /
planted in the valley of sleep.” Furthermore, replacing the female figure
with the lizard-
jinn in the final painting sees the female depicted horizon-
tally, raising both her arms as if adoring or aiming to reach the elaborate,
closed city gate depicted at the center of this drawing. It is unclear why Al-
Gazzar decided to replace the young female with the image of a lizard-
However, by this change of motifs, the final painting becomes much more
mysterious and even, to some extent, miraculous. At the same time, the
catlike jinn was also changed from a suffering, ugly figure to an extremely
feminine creature. Thus, the whole painting radiates temptation and mys-
tery. Is this depicted city the House of Peace Al- Gazzar mentions in the
accompanying text?8 Art critic Aimé Azar accurately describes the tenor
of this painting: “El- Gazzar is waging combat between the angel and the
beast, the unconscious and intelligence, traditions and myths. His non-
representational approach has more realism than many realistic expres-
sions.”9 Torn between “traditions and myths,” Al- Gazzar, like many Egyp-
tian artists of the time, was trapped between the burden of his land’s past
history and the great expectations for its future.
In order to understand Al- Gazzar’s aesthetic language, it would be worth-
while to consider the artistic Cairene context, especially to trace his forma-
tive years as a young artist under the tutelage of Hussein Youssef Amin. It
was Amin who discovered Al- Gazzar in 1938, at the age of thirteen, and
encouraged him to keep on with his artistic education. In 1944, after a
short period as a medical student, Al- Gazzar joined the faculty of fine
arts. His main education as an artist probably happened after he joined Le
Groupe de l’Art Contemporain in 1946, the year it was founded by Amin.
Belonging to the first generation of artists in modern Egypt, Amin took
part in the revolution against the British occupation in 1919. His search for
nationhood and independence probably added to his great driving force to
discover talented young artists in Egypt, helping them take their first steps
toward forming an identity and style. Members of Art Contemporain used
to gather regularly at his house to discuss artistic matters and other top-
ics. Amin encouraged Al- Gazzar to develop his independent and particular
expressive and surrealist style—then regarded as contemporary and mod-
ern—but concomitantly was much aware of the need to create an artistic
language specific to Egypt. Amin was trapped between modern interna-
tional art and art that was more traditional and national. This contradiction
is evident in Amin’s statements in his manifesto in favor of surrealism as
a modern mode of expression: “The major mistake which hinders people’s
ability to understand contemporary art forms is unconsciously inherent in
their attempt to accept this art through one of the old artistic ideals or com-
bination of those ideals as a whole.”10 Introducing the second exhibition of
Art Contemporain in 1948, Amin states: “We can sense the substantial dif-
ference between contemporary art and traditional art, each of which now
would appear as being out of synch with the age when it emerged. This art
was the product of special social circumstances, reflecting man’s desire for
sought- after modern development.”11
Al- Gazzar’s best work illustrating time in the context of Egypt’s struggle
for national identity is his painting The Past, the Present, and the Future,
completed in 1951 (see figure 3).12 Here, Al- Gazzar uses symbols to define
the three human conditions as relating to time. Al- Gazzar writes: “The
past is clear in the background of the painting. . . . The present is the large
face seen in the painting; his expression is a combination of strength,
resolve, absent- mindedness towards a hateful past and the contemplation
of a happy tomorrow. . . . The future, meanwhile, is represented in the key
put in front of the present. The key heralds the future with its secrets and
hidden aspects.”13 It seems clear that Al- Gazzar’s desire to liberate his soul
and mind—even if this painting refers to the collective memory of Egyp-
tians and not necessarily to Al- Gazzar as individual—is associated with
the struggle for freedom from the burden of the past. If we are allowed to
interpret this picture also as Al- Gazzar’s wish to free his art from prece-
dent artistic languages and his wish to use contemporary artistic modes
of expression, it seems as if his intention echoes the words of his mentor,
The most powerful of Al- Gazzar’s works are those made during the 1950s,
which combine images and poetry. These drawings, all made with colored
crayon and ink on paper, illustrate Al- Gazzar’s interest in surrealist auto-
matic writing, drawing, poetry, and use of imagery as a means of express-
ing the individual human condition, both conscious and subconscious.
The first of this group is The Hymn of the Beetles, made in 1953 (see
figure 4). A magical and enigmatic atmosphere imbues this drawing. The
main figure on the left is a man with bird’s feet and an extended monstrous
upper body with six arms. His sharp and powerful profile and huge eye
emphasize his supernatural character; it is as if he were working omens on
the beholder. Like the mythological figure of Orpheus, he plays a musical
instrument (the flute) and tames the monstrous, almost grotesque, creature
that crawls at his feet. A creeping insect, most probably also tamed by the
captivating song of the flute, appears on the instrument itself. The whole
picture is a surrealistic vision of a dream. There is the sense of intimacy, as
if we are entering the private, unconscious sphere of Al- Gazzar’s thoughts
and fantasies, evoking for a moment Francisco Goya’s El sueno de la razon
produce monstruos (caprichos, no. 43). Humankind’s irrationality, prejudices,
and obscure forces seem to control Al- Gazzar’s inner world. Fear and the
wish to tame irrational elements are mixed in this drawing. The poem, writ-
ten by Al- Gazzar in both red and black ink and integrated into the drawing,
accentuates the enigma of this work and contributes to its illegibility:

Behind the black walls, they are there.
The stench spreads
The shapes of their Throats lie rusty inside ears.
Do you hear their hymns?
Wailing and wailing . . .
At the dawn of the feast
The sun disc is garlanded with my crowns.
Bracelets of love I offer as a present to my loved ones.
My star is faithful
I carry it on my shoulders
With it I travel into the unknown and
My flute calls on people
Everyone sings
The hymn of the beetles with the green flies of air.14

Al- Gazzar painted The Damned Son of a Bitch around 1953, and the work
includes another of the artist’s poems (see figure 5). The central and main
motif of this drawing is a fantastic tree emerging out of a woman’s face
with an owl on the tree’s trunk and branches, which appear as if they were
made of long black hair. On the left side of the tree, a woman sits, or rather
mourns, and her long hair mingles with the tree’s hairy branches. Several
other figures appear in the rural landscape. On the right is a bizarre scene,
to which the enigmatic title of this drawing most likely refers. In the scene,
a heavy woman, sitting on a man who is lying on his stomach, seems to
punish the man, beating him with both hands. A hanging water bucket,
four ravens, and a fleeing figure appear in the background. Like The Hymn
of the Beetles, this drawing evokes both confusion and curiosity. The sub-
ject matter remains inexplicable. Different narratives are collected and dis-
played here, but the rationale behind them is unclear. Impressions of grief
and sorrow are brought to mind. Bad luck and tragic circumstances are
mingled and presented in a dramatic but nevertheless slightly humorous
manner. The accompanying poem reads, in part:

The damned son of a bitch
The son of the red slaves
A lowly scoundrel
A rascal typical of his time
Self- centered . . .
Like an ominous crow
It spreads the news everywhere
The one with a sincere palm
Has made me promise him
We will end the times of injustice.15

Dances of a Slain Person, created by Al- Gazzar in 1954, consists of a
double page drawn with crayon (see figure 6). The organization of words
and images suggests that this drawing is part of the illustrated anthology
of the Alexandrian poet Ahmed Mursi. Mursi’s poem is titled Death under
the Moonlight. The poem, which appears on both pages, reads:
Dances of a slain person on the brink of disappearance
Wailing from his grave rattle under the pillars of the sky,
The ribs of a neighing toll run by hands of the wind
As though they were ghosts moving in the dark. . . .
Why does the evening have the features of annihilation?
In the deserted spot there is my ruined tower.16
Why is repeated in this poem, imposing its question on the entire scene.
For a moment it seems as if the word is screamed by the robust figure sit-
ting on the ground, with feet bound. The figure is naked with only a band
of disc pendants hanging around its chest. It raises its head and is depicted
with an open mouth as if complaining or lamenting. Another melancholic
figure, most probably a female, appears on the left side of the double page.
She sits in the shadow of a ruined building. A huge bell hangs over her
head, and an eagle screams above her. At her feet lie several skulls. The
figure holds a lute under her arm. In the distance under what seems to be
the moonlight, as the elongated shadows suggest, we see several other fig-
ures. The ambience of “dead under the moonlight” is transmitted through
Al- Gazzar’s visual images and symbols.
Another drawing in red crayon on paper, Now What Is This Silence? repre-
sents a flooded world in which figures, memories, symbols, and signs swim
in the streams of the river of unconsciousness (see figure 7). The text here
is also by Mursi, and it appears as if it were floating over the painting, as a
phantom carrying words into the illustrated double page:
Now what is this silence?
Why has my bell died?
Is this a funeral or apparitions of departure? . . .
I spray flowers of childhood with floods
Are my dreams nothing?
Should I be patient like an empty bubble inside a human aquarium?
The black foam keeps fate at bay
My buds, what wrong have they done to wither and perish? . . .
It will melt away against my free will if the wind blows in the dark
It will melt away against my free will as I crumble like debris.17

The works described here clearly demonstrate Al- Gazzar’s specific visual
language, consisting of symbols, personifications, and literary references.
Aware of the contradiction between form and content in surrealistic paint-
ing, the artist constantly tries to free himself from the tyranny of figurative
art by transforming his motifs into symbols. He is obsessed with and longs
for the freedom of the human mind, exposing its fears, concerns, desires,
vanishing memories, and the banalities of life. His ideas were likely nur-
tured by the concepts expressed in the late 1930s by Cairo’s surrealist group
Art et Liberté. This group was founded on January 19, 1939, by George
Henein, a well- educated, highly influential figure in Cairo’s art scene.
Henein had already made a name for himself in Europe. He was involved
with European, mainly French, surrealistic artists and Italian futurist art-
ists, especially Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. The establishment of a surreal-
istic movement in Cairo came at the behest of André Breton and Diego
Rivera, who asked Henein in 1938 to join an international action in order
to repress the Nazis’ hostile attitudes toward modern art. On December 22,
1938, a tract was presented, probably written by Henein. The tract, Vivre
l’art dégénéré, written in Arabic and French, was distributed in the streets
of Cairo and sent abroad.18 It was a clear anti- Fascist manifesto, addressing
directly Adolf Hitler’s totalitarian regime and its aggression against “degen-
erate” art, while also representing Art et Liberté’s wish to give the freedom
of act and mind to artistic creation: “We believe that any attempt to confine
modern art, as certain people wish, to being an instrument at the service
of a religion, a race or a nation is utterly absurd or is no more than a bad
joke. As for us these reactionary myths can only be regarded as imprisoning
the thought. As a generalized exchange system of thoughts and emotions
which are shared by the whole humanity, art cannot but reject those arti-
ficial restrictions.”19 The manifesto concludes: “We stand for this degen-
erate art. It is in it that reside all the chances of the future. Let us work
for its victory over the middle ages which is rising in the very heart of the
The manifesto was subsequently published in Al- fan al- hurr (The Free
Art).21 In such times, when Fascism was spreading in Europe, the East was
also engaged in keeping alive the modern art movement and its ideals of
freedom of expression. In fact, this tract was in accord with and clearly
alludes to the Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art, which was
made public on July 25, 1938, in Mexico, the home of exile for modern
European artists and intellectuals. This text was the founding transcript of
the Fédération Internationale de l’Art Révolutionnaire Independent.22 The
main figures in Art et Liberté were Henein, Fouad Kamel, and Younan, and
the group adopted a surrealistic language, as Younan explains: “The credit
is likewise due to this Surrealist Movement as the first serious attempt to
create a new myth in which reality and supernatural, manifestation and the
intrinsic, wisdom and madness, apogee and perigee, life and death meet
and become a source of light and inspiration. . . . Therefore we see him [the
artist] now intentionally exploding these forms, hoping to stumble across
the primary essence of Being and its hidden features under the debris.”23
By searching the cognitive realm of the artist’s imagination, the idea of
freedom appears as secured. Surrealism, therefore, could be considered
the answer to the need for a specific mode of art associated with freedom
and the wish to break any constraints that imprison the soul, or—using
another metaphor—the spirit of the nation. This idea fits well with Breton’s
Le Manifeste du Surréalisme, written in 1924, which defines surrealism as a
pure psychic automatism expressing the process of thought, freed from any
control by reason, and independent of any aesthetic or moral constraints.
One of the more talented artists of Art et Liberté was Kamel, who influ-
enced Al- Gazzar’s paintings the most.24 His poetical drawings appear as if
painted “in the free stream of thoughts and the flowing of forms and con-
tours”—to use one of the titles of his drawings—and strongly bring to mind
the drawings of Al- Gazzar. It is probably the freedom of associative think-
ing and its translation into a particular visual program that links and binds
images and symbols. Kamel explains his inner vision and visual streams of
One day my depths awoke (sister tree, brother rock). The law of
being in everything was overwhelming at once, and I sensed a pecu-
liar symmetry which binds and humbles every creature in a delicate
and miraculous order. I began to remain un- disturbed when I didn’t
see the curve of a water-
buffaloe’s back as though it were the moving
extention of a huge piece of mountain, or when I didn’t distinguish
much between a horse’s mane and a woman’s hair, or between a chair
and a human body.25
These fermenting cosmopolitan ideas of Egypt’s modernist circle had
largely died out by the end of the 1940s. It is generally understood that the
surrealist movement on the Nile and its aspiration for internationalism
challenged the growth of nationalism in Egypt and was also divorced from
the still- maintained academicism in the art schools of Cairo. It is likely
that the surrealist group and its derivatives alienated Egyptian public opin-
ion and as a result lost political and financial support. Al- Gazzar appears,
then, as one of the major figures in the Egyptian artistic landscape who was
able to keep the spirit of the surrealist movement continuing into the next
decade. Yet, why does Al- Gazzar use the word absurd to define the character
of surrealistic painting in his writing in the mid- 1950s?
It seems that the political change in Egypt in the 1950s, particularly the
officers’ revolt in 1952, brought about a totally different environment to art
and society in Egypt. Pan- Arabism and national patriotism were revived,
especially as a result of the establishment of a Jewish state in the midst
of the Levant. Egypt, caught by the rising tension between the two super-
powers of the post–World War II era, had to redefine its national identity.
It is interesting to see how the surrealistic style of Al- Gazzar’s 1960s
paintings also changed. His works could no longer be defined as relating
to the international style of surrealistic art and automatic painting, both
of which aimed at mental and spiritual freedom. Rather, Al- Gazzar’s art
is constrained by his wish to marry national style with the traditional. The
freedom of human individual spirit and imagination visualized through Al-
Gazzar’s automatic writing and scribbling motifs of mental visions and
landscapes are transformed into imaginary and bizarre patterns and sym-
bols relating to the collective Egyptian psyche and its national identity, orga-
nized within narrative space. Al- Gazzar seems, then, to develop a genuine
method of visualizing the Egyptian spirit by looking into its inner mind
and soul. Finally, despite his subtle criticism of Egyptian society, he turns
out to be, at least in his last “surrealistic” works, a painter in service to the
nation. Al- Gazzar seems to search for a genuine Egyptian identity in his
early surrealistic works. Instead of simply drawing on the themes of the
visual Egyptian past, he concentrates on the national collective psyche and
creates for it novel symbols and icons, illustrating its new “human condi-
tion.” It is interesting to see how the politics and history of the region dic-
tated the path that the surrealist style of Al- Gazzar took or, one may even
say, was reformed and reconstructed by them. In fact, following the devel-
opment of Al- Gazzar as an artist, from the 1940s until the mid- 1960s, pro-
vides an interesting example of the reception of modernism on the Nile and
the transformation it underwent from its first direct link to individualism and the free spirit of the artist to its later association with nationalism and
the collective identity of the people. The international, if not global, artistic
ideas of Henein and Art et Liberté in the early 1940s seemed to die out at
the end of the decade, leaving space for a new surrealistic style that was torn
between the search for an artistic, authentic, and individual expression and
the making of Arabic national identity—an absurd combination of tasks.


1 Liliane Karnouk, Modern Egyptian Art: 1910–2003 (Cairo: American University in Cairo
Press, 2005), 35.
2 For a discussion of modernity in the Muslim world, see mainly Edward W. Said, “Travel-
ing Theory,” in The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1983), 226–47; Hasan Hanafi, Islam in the Modern World (Cairo: Anglo- Egyptian
Bookshop, 1995); and Aziz Al- Azmeh, Islams and Modernities (London: Verso Books,
1996). As far as art is concerned, see mainly Karnouk, Modern Egyptian Art; Wijdan
Ali, “The Status of Islamic Art in the Twentieth Century,” Muqarnas 9 (1992): 186–88;
Silvia Naef, A la recherché d’une modernité arabe: L’évolution des arts plastiques en Egypt, au
Liban et en Irak (Geneva: Slatkine, 1996); Wijdan Ali, Modern Islamic Art: Development
and Continuity (Gainesville: Florida University Press, 1997); and Doris Behrens- Abouseif
and Stephen Vernoit, Islamic Art in the 19th Century: Tradition, Innovation, and Eclecticism
(Leiden: Brill, 2006); see also Jessica Winegar, Creative Reckonings: The Politics of Art and
Culture in Contemporary Egypt (Stanford, CA.: Stanford University Press, 2006).
3 For an excellent and critical approach to modernity within the colonial and postcolonial
discourse, see Saurabh Dube, “Introduction: Enchantments of Modernity,” South Atlantic
Quarterly 101.4 (2002): 729–55. See also Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, “A History of the Con-
cept Modern,” in Making Sense in Life and Literature, trans. Glen Burns (Minneapolis: Uni-
versity of Minnesota Press, 1992), 108; Enrique Dussel, “Eurocentrism and Modernity,”
boundary 2 20 (1993): 65–76; and Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial
Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000).
4 Sobhy Sharouny, Abdel Hadi Al- Gazzar (Cairo: Elias Modern, 2007), 18.
5 Ibid.
6 Karnouk, Modern Egyptian Art, 47.
7 The English translation is given in Sharouny, Al-
Gazzar, 74.
8 It is tempting to compare this painting of Al- Gazzar’s with a small (54.5-by-73.5-centi-
meter) oil painting by Max Ernst, Le triomphe de l’amour/fausse allégorie (The Triumph of
Love/False Allegory), from 1937. Apart from the similar titles of both paintings, the resem-
blance between the compositions is striking. A large monsterlike figure appears in the
foreground. Similar to the jinn lover of the preparatory drawing, Ernst’s monster fills
the lower zone of the canvas. An angel with a broken wing appears at the painting’s cen-
ter, hovering above the lower scene. This angel might be compared to the “flying” figure
in Al- Gazzar’s work. The small, naked woman who raises her arms toward the angel
recalls in some way Al- Gazzar’s female figure, who also raises her arms as if praying or
asking for forgiveness. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find out if Al- Gazzar was aware of
this painting of Ernst’s. Thus the link suggested here remains speculative. See Melanie
Franke and Dieter Scholz, ed., Surreale Welten: Sammlung Scharf- Gerstenberg (Surreal
Worlds: Collection Scharf-
Gerstenberg) (Berlin: State Museums of Berlin, National Gallery,
Nicolai Publications, 2008), 179.
9 Karnouk, Modern Egyptian Art, 45. This is cited from Aimé Azar, La peinture moderne en
Égypte (Cairo: Les editions nouvelles, 1961), 116.
10 Hussein Youssef Amin quoted in Sharouny, Al-
Gazzar, 13.
11 Ibid.
12 It is tempting to compare the male figure in this painting, whose hands and fleshy fingers
dominate the foreground, with the famous 1952 Robert Doisneau photograph of Picasso
at his breakfast table, Le pains de Picasso.
13 Al- Gazzar quoted in Sharouny, Al-
Gazzar, 17.
14 The English translation is from Sharouny, Al-
Gazzar, 76.
15 Ibid., 77.
16 Ibid., 75.
17 The English translation is from Sharouny, al-
Gazzar, 78.
18 Azar, La Peinture Moderne en Egypte, 53.
19 For this translation, see Abdel Kader El- Janabi, “The Nile of Surrealism,” Faradis, 2007,
http://faradis.wordpress.com/2007/02/28/surrealist- activities-
in- egypt/ (accessed Octo-
ber 5, 2008).
20 Ibid.
21 George Henein, “Long Live Low Art!” (“Yahyah al-
fan al- munkhaţ”), Al- fan al- hurr (The
Free Art), December 9, 1938.
22 See Robin Adèle Greeley, “For an Independent Revolutionary Art: Breton, Trotsky, and
Càrdenas’s Mexico,” in Surrealism, Politics, and Culture, ed. Raymond Spiteri and Donald
LaCoss (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003), 204–24.
23 Ramsis Younan quoted in Samir Gharieb, Surrealism in Egypt and Plastic Arts (Cairo:
Ministry of Culture, 1986), 37. For further discussion of Ramsis Younan and the sur-
realist group in Cairo, see Svein Engelstad, “Historical Themes in Modern Egyptian
Art” (paper presented at the Fifth Nordic Conference on Middle Eastern Studies, Lund,
October 25–28, 2001), available at www.smi.uib.no/pal/Engelstad.pdf (accessed Febru-
ary 1, 2010). See also Andrea Flores, “The Myth of the False: Ramses Younan’s Post-
structuralism avant la lettre,” Arab Studies Journal 8.2/9.1 (Fall 2000/Spring 2001):
24 Fouad Kamel was born in Beni Suef in April 28, 1919. He was a student of Yusuf al- Afifi’s.
In 1947, he joined the Wing of Sands society and showed his Automatic Works in several
exhibitions organized by the society. He was one of the youngest members of Art et Lib-
erté; he showed his work in that society’s first exhibition in 1940.
25 Gharieb, Surrealism in Egypt, 40–42.