The two independent curators behind Art Reoriented have put together comprehensive exhibition that outlines the history and production of the Egyptian Surrealist-inspired collective Art & Liberty Group. Consisting of artists, intellectuals and activists, the group banded together in a time of cultural and political reform in Egypt and played a part in standing up against fascism, nationalism and colonialism.
Undertaking the daunting task of representing an art movement that had been largely forgotten, and a trajectory that had been entirely rewritten, Bardaouil and Fellrath spent five years preparing this survey. The idea came to light when their research for the 2012 Doha exhibition, Tea with Nefertiti: The Making of the Artwork by the Artist, the Museum and the Public, revealed the Surrealist group established in 1938. Despite prolific production in the ensuing decade, the group seemed to disappear following less than enthusiastic reception at the time – a failure to take hold credited to popular (mis)representation as a group that was attempting to bring an alienating Occidental movement into Egypt.
Though drawing inspiration from Western Surrealism, it evolved into its own version nuanced by local issues stemming from the nationalistic Egypt during WWII. However, with little material or even visuals readily available, Fellrath indicated that it felt as though they were starting from scratch on a journey that ultimately took the duo through 12 countries, 46 private and public collections, and 200 interviews. One particular, if tedious, highlight came in the form of the Egyptian National Archives, where they combed manually through each page of un-digitalised material to pull content that would redefine curation and research in a current time where ‘everyone is a curator’.
Revealing personal and authentic histories that go beyond Orientalism and post-colonial discourse, presenting several first-hand sources and long-forgotten discoveries, Art et Liberté sets out to right a narrative that was left behind.
The exhibition began global tour at the Centre Pompidou in Paris on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the death of Surrealism’s founder André Breton. The 200-plus paintings, works on paper, photographs and archival materials, dating from the late 1920s until the early 1950s, will then make its way to Germany after its current Spanish run.
Art et Liberté: Rupture, War and Surrealism in Egypt (1938 – 1948) runs until 11 June at the Museo Nacional Centre de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain; 15 July-15 October at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen K21, Duesseldorf, Germany; 13 November – 4 March at Tate Liverpool, England. For more information visit artreoriented.com