From the Nahda of the 19th century to the 1952 Free Officer’s Revolution, Egyptian modern art grew in tandem with philosophical and political currents. Sharing origins with Egyptian nationalism and modern Arab thought in the salons of the 1880s, the fine arts similarly negotiated between European forms and local histories. In the 1950s, Egypt’s modern art, like its statesmen, turned from European styles toward a “non-aligned modernism.”
This research covers three periods of modern Egyptian art, from its foundations in the 1880s through its radical breaks in the 1960s, reevaluates modernity in Egypt and the wider Middle East and simultaneously challenges core tenets of Euro-American modernist art history. The research defines the three periods of modern Egyptian history by both a political revolution and a new relationship with European culture, labeled as phases of importation, incorporation and rejection. The period of importation extends from the Urabi Revolt of 1879-82 though the opening of the Cairo School of Fine Arts in 1908 and laid the cultural foundation on which modern Egyptian art was formed. The period of incorporation, from the art school’s opening through World War II, focuses on creating a distinctive Egyptian art practice in an era defined by the 1919 Revolution. During the third phase, from the end of World War II through the mid-1960s, rejection, artists turned from European trends towards a “non-aligned modernism.”
This project concentrates on institutional, visual and textual evidence. The institutional component traces the systems of education and exhibition developed in the early-twentieth century, particularly the School of Fine Arts. The visual component of the project, analyzes paintings, drawings, and sculptures, and focuses on how artists appropriated French artistic techniques for a national art movement. The textual component investigates the discourses on art – in periodicals, art journals, pamphlets and books – between the 1880s and the 1960s, which exhibit how Egyptians discussed and received modern art and how writers theorized the incorporation of European techniques into cultural production.