In its inaugural show, ArtTalks | Egypt brings together a collective show entitled Long Live Free Art!, inspired by the manifesto of the Egyptian Art and Freedom Group. A roster of internationally acclaimed and emerging artists participates in an effort to voice their call for freedom in creativity and expression on behalf of Egypt and in memory of their predecessors of the past century.
We call for the independence of art for the sake of the revolution and for the revolution for the extreme liberation of art.
Manifesto, Art & Freedom Group, Cairo, 1939.
All through history, artists have played a pivotal role in actively participating in the political and social discourse of their nations. One such art movement is the Egyptian Art and Freedom Group, founded in 1939 by the poet George Henein, with the intention of emancipating the imagination “from any and all constraints by any means necessary”.
Joining Henein in his endeavor were school art teacher Ramses Younan; painter and writer Kamel el-Telmissani and the two brothers Anwar and Fouad Kamel. Their manifesto “For an Independent Revolutionary Art” stated their ideals as the unequivocal affirmation of cultural and artistic liberty and their complete commitment to the radical freedom of all creative expression in the culture wars against traditionalism, state-regulated art, the authoritarian policing of free expression and censorship. Where expression was censored — they believed — so was thought, and there could be no freedom for Egyptians so long as the impediments of economic, cultural, social, and religious conservatism remained in place.
Though surrealism prevailed amongst the founders, they invited some of the most important creative forces in Egypt to use their defiant pen and bold brush to speak out against the social and economic inequities that the “diseased” and “unbalanced” Egyptian society was suffering from, spelling the political and social concerns of a society that ironically resembles that of today. For these avant-garde artists, art presented itself as the means to change and liberate the mind and hence the nation and did not exist merely as “art for art’s sake”.
Fast forward to 2012 Egypt post Arab Spring, and we are presenting the works of nine Egyptian artists whose work echoes the legacy of the Art and Freedom Group and is a testament that Egyptian contemporary artists seek to carry the torch of our predecessors to contribute to the current discourse on freedoms and to act as agents of social change.
Samir Gharib, journalist, art critic, author, former chairman of Egypt national library and archives and currently chairman of the National Organisation of Urban Harmony (NOUH), will generously talk to us on December 18th about the history of that art movement. Mr Gharib has dedicated years of his life to document the Art & Freedom Group. His research culminated into “Surrealism in Egypt” published in 1986 in 3 languages and “Rayyat el Khayyal” in 1994.
Exhibited artists are Ahmed Sabry, Huda Lutfi, Keizer, Maged Mekhail, Mina Tadros, Moatatz Nasr, Mohamed Abla, Nermine Hammam and Yasser Nabaiel.
“O men of art, men of letters! Let us take up the challenge together! We stand absolutely as one.” Manifesto of the Art & Freedom Group, issued in 1939 and signed by 31 intellectuals, artists and writers.