Burchard and the Egyptian Moderns: The Story Behind Egypt’s First Participation in the São Paulo Biennial
The genesis of Egypt’s first participation in the São Paulo Biennial (1953-1954) is quite unusual. The story begins with a spontaneous application from a Swiss painter who settled in Egypt after living in Brazil: Irmgard Micaela Burchard Simaika (1908-1964). Her request soon led to the project of composing an official delegation to represent the country when Egypt was going through a period of political change, as the republic was proclaimed in June 1953. Within an artistic landscape deprived of specialized administration, the exhibition’s preparation was associated with several debates to establish who had the skills and legitimacy to select the artworks to be sent to São Paulo. The final list of artists reflects the reality of the Egyptian art world in the first half of the 1950s. Academic personalities mix with a new generation keen to produce art that would stand as modern and authentically national and with members of foreign elites well integrated into local society. The Egyptian pavilion also includes a third of women and stands out as one of the most gender-balanced pavilions in the Biennial.
Nadine Atallah is a doctoral candidate in art history at the Université Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne. Her research investigates the important contribution of women to the visual arts in modern Egypt in relation to Nasser’s ideologies and nationalism. In 2015, Nadine Atallah co-founded the Madrassa Collective, a transnational curatorial platform that experiments and investigates collective practices and transborder collaboration as a means to confront the difficulties of art-making in the Middle East and Africa. She has curated several exhibitions, including In Conversation—a Painting Show at the American University in Cairo (Sharjah Art Gallery) in April 2019.