Over the course of three years researching thousands of old photographs for her 2010 book Photography and Egypt (Reaktion Books), the author came across few examples of what might be termed “surrealist photography” in Egypt and little evidence for the exhibitions organized by Art and Liberty, a group of Egyptian artists and writers who resisted the Nazi and fascist risings before and after World War II. Anchored by Samir Gharib’s Surrealism in Egypt and Plastic Arts; correspondence between photographer Lee Miller, living in Cairo in the 1940s, and British artist and poet Roland Penrose; and Donald LaCoss’s work and correspondence with Roland Penrose’s son, Anthony, this article elaborates and adjusts some of the perceptions of the Art and Liberty group that appeared in Photography and Egypt. The group would eventually feel the wrath of the Anglo-Egyptian authorities for providing translations of Marxist-Leninist texts, condemnations of anti-fascist and anti-imperialist ideals and politics, and affirmations of social reform and freedom of expression. On the other hand, the author supposes that it may also be the case that only a few photographic works produced by artists associated with the Art and Liberty group can be called “surrealist” at all, as Egypt’s surrealist moment left more prominent traces in painting and literature. Nonetheless, Art and Liberty’s activities acknowledged photography as a creative medium at an early, experimental stage in its development, before it was derailed by the 1952 Officer’s Revolution and, later, pressed into the service of the state. Despite the lack of access to the photographic record of works produced for or around Art and Liberty exhibitions, the author contributes contextual details for both those shows and the practice of photography around the time the group was active, illustrated by seminal images of works by Kamel Telmisany, Hassan El-Télmissany, Idabel, Hassia, Fouad Kamel, Wadid Sirry, Lee Miller, and others.
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Maria Golia; Surrealism and Photography in Egypt. Nka 1 November 2021; 2021 (49): 144–162. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10757163-9435751
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