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Art and liberty - Egyptian Surrealism at Tate Liverpool

The year 1938 was an uneasy precursor to an even more turbulent time to come.

The Anschluss annexed Austria to Germany, Hitler sent troops in to the Sudetenland, synagogues were burned and Jewish people murdered in the Kristallnacht, and the Spanish Civil War continued to rage.

Meanwhile In Egypt, King Farouk married his Queen Farida.

And in December, a radical collective of young, almost exclusively left-wing, artists – both men and women - joined together to sign a manifesto, Vive L’Art Degenere (Long Live Degenerate Art), creating a new socially-aware surrealist movement – Art and Liberty.

“Cairo was an intellectual hotspot in the 1930s and 40s,” explains Till, Fellrath, one of the curators of Surrealism in Egypt, an international exhibition which has visited Paris, Madrid and Dusseldorf, and has now opened at Tate Liverpool.

“It was still a free city as well. It attracted a lot of refugees and war artists, and it had a cosmopolitan population – including Italians, Greeks, and Armenian and Jewish refugees.

“Artists could express themselves freely.”

Above: Nude 1950, Fouad Kamel. © Collection of Fatenn Mostafa Kanafani

Top: Coups de Batons 1937, Mayo. Image courtesy: Private collection, Milan

And express themselves they did as this show of more than 100 paintings, drawings, photographs, films and documents created by or relating to almost 40 artists reveals.

The artists, and writers, responded to the rise of fascism, across the world and closer to home, highlighting the injustices they witnessed – both physical and emotional – in their own surrealistic style.

The exhibition is divided in to a series of themes, including Subjective Realism, Writing With Pictures, The Contemporary Art Group, and The Women of the City - with the artists taking Cairo’s rising prostitute population as subject matter, looking at social injustice and the suffering of women.

Till Fellrath adds: “This is the first time all these works have been exhibited together. In 1948, many of the artists went in to exile, and many didn’t have children. Since then the material has been completely dispersed.”

Surrealism in Egypt: Art et Liberté runs until March 18. Entrance is £10/£8 which also includes the John Piper exhibition

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