– Autumn/Winter 2016

Public/Private: The Many Lives of ‘Rebel Painter’ Inji Efflatoun

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

The past eight years in Egypt have not offered much stable ground for assessing episodes in the country’s art history from the standpoint of the present. The waves of revolution, coup, counter-revolution, counter-coup, resistance, euphoria, suppression and defeat that have been rolling in since 2011 – when popular protests dislodged the 30-year reign of Hosni Mubarak – have created a kaleidoscopic view on the past, constantly shifting and twisting, changing the colours and patterns of who was to be revived, celebrated or dismissed. This would be challenging for the reading of an artist who was relatively straightforward and consistent; for a painter as complex and changeable as Inji Efflatoun, the task is so difficult it’s almost thrilling. She was a Surrealist, a communist and a feminist; both a political prisoner and a regime functionary at different times of her life. And her work seemed to have a life of its own. Her rebellions of form, content, composition and gesture shifted from subtle to dramatic many times over; she revisited and refracted a long history of political upheavals and traumatic events. From today’s perspective, it invites evermore multiple and fearless readings from our tender new footings on shape-shifting grounds. — KWG

Inji Efflatoun, Mathbahat Dinshaway (The Dinshaway Massacre), c. 1950s, ink on paper, 63.5 × 49.3cm. Courtesy Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah

Egypt, at the turn of the last century, was

  1. Efflatoun’s solo exhibition was held at Galerie Adam, Cairo in 1952. Her work was included in the inaugural Egyptian pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1952, the II Bienal de São Paulo in 1953 and the Alexandria Biennale in 1958.

  2. See Said Khayal (ed.), Muthakirat Inji Efflatoun: Min al-Toufoula ila al-Sign (Inji Efflatoun's Memoirs: From Childhood to Prison, 1993), Cairo: Dar al-Thaqafa al-Jadida, 2014. Excerpts from her memoirs will appear in English in the anthology Arab Art in the Twentieth Century: Primary Documents (ed. Anneka Lenssen, Sarah Rogers and Nada Shabout), New York: Museum of Modern Art, forthcoming in 2017.

  3. See Iman Issa in conversation with Moyra Davey, 'On Using "I" and First-Person Narration', Makhzin, issue 2, 23 April 2016, available at http://www.makhzin.org/issues/feminisms/on-using-i-and-first-person-narration (last accessed on 3 July 2016).

  4. These include ‘Forces of Change: Artists of the Arab World’, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC, 7 February–15 May 1994, curated by Salwa Mikdadi Nashashibi; ‘All the World’s Futures’, 56th Venice Biennale, 9 May–22 November 2015, curated by Okwui Enwezor; ‘Barjeel Art Foundation Collection – Imperfect Chronology: Debating Modernism I’, Whitechapel Gallery, London, 8 September–6 December 2015, curated by Omar Kholeif; and ‘Mother Tongue: Selected Works by Inji Efflatoun’, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, 11 October 2015–14 February 2016, curated by Leonore-Namkha Beschi.

  5. The Art and Freedom group organised five annual exhibitions in Cairo between 1940 and 1945. Efflatoun participated in the 1942 and 1943 editions.

  6. See Betty LaDuke, 'Egyptian Painter Inji Efflatoun: The Merging of Art, Feminism, and Politics', NWSA Journal, vol.1, no.3, Spring 1989, p.477.

  7. Ibid., p.482.

  8. Liliane Karnouk, Modern Egyptian Art: 1910–2003, Cairo and New York: American University in Cairo Press, 2005, p.75.

  9. Jacqueline Rose, 'Mothers', London Review of Books, vol.36, no.12, 19 June 2014, pp.17–22, available at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n12/jacqueline-rose/mothers (last accessed on 3 July 2016).

  10. 'Denshaway Museum', Egypt's State Information Service website, http://www.sis.gov.eg/ section/4840/5104?lang=en-us (last accessed on 3 July 2016).