– Autumn/Winter 2016

Inji Efflatoun: White Light

Anneka Lenssen

Inji Efflatoun, Mathbah Al Kneeseh (The Church Altar), c.1940s, ink on paper, 25 × 15.5cm. Courtesy Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah

1) It is forbidden to look at women.
2) It is forbidden for a girl to pay attention to her body while bathing, or for girls to look at the bodies of each other. Girls must wear a robe underwater.
3) Friendship is forbidden between girls, and anyone engaging in such friendship will be punished severely. Nor must one girl be alone with another.
4) It is forbidden to read alone, or to purchase one’s own books. Therefore, our things will be searched continuously.

Egyptian painter Inji Efflatoun (1924–89) could recall these prohibitions – just four points from the incalculably severe regime of the Sacré-Coeur school she attended as a girl – until her death. Propriety had mattered in Cairo’s elite circles, and even though Efflatoun’s family was Muslim, her father sought the discipline of Catholic school for his daughters. Efflatoun could remember her first outright defiance of these rules as well. In the mid-1930s, at age twelve, she played hooky so as to indulge