An occasion to celebrate
Al-taswir al-hadith fi misr (Modern Painting in Egypt), Aimé Azar, with a preface by Cyril des Baux, translated from the French by Naim Attia & Edward Kharat; Cairo: The National Project for Translation, Supreme Council for Culture, 2006. pp426 + 293 reproductions; originally published as La Peinture moderne en Egypte, Cairo: Les Editions nouvelles, 1961
The appearance last month of an Arabic translation of La Peinture moderne en Egypte (Modern Painting in Egypt) by Aimé Azar, widely considered to be the most comprehensive reference work on modern Egyptian painting available, marks the completion of the thousand books translated under the rubric of the National Project for Translation, an initiative sponsored by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture.
Over the years this project has added quality translations of important works from various other languages, European and non-European, to the canon of available Arabic translations, and it has commissioned translations both of works of fiction and non-fiction. Azar's La Peinture moderne en Egypte is a work of love by a French art critic who engaged passionately with the art scene in Egypt where he lived and worked, completing the book over the decade 1950-1961, and it is a fitting final volume to the thousand book series.
Divided into seven chapters, the book discusses the works of some 90 painters, including ten foreign painters who lived in the country, spanning a period of three decades beginning with the pioneers who championed modern painting in Egypt in the late 1920s and early 30s, such as Ragheb Ayyad, Mahmoud Said and Mohamed Nagi, and ending with painters including Hamid Abdallah, Bikar and Abdel-Hadi Al-Gazzar. In his description of the artists of this period, Azar describes different groups of artists, including: (1) Les A"nés, the senior generation, this group also being dubbed La Chimère (the Chimera) from 1927; (2) Les Inquiets, the concerned, this group being linked to other, more internationally oriented groups such as Art et Liberté (Art and Freedom), which protested against the Hitler regime's condemnation of much modern European art as entartete, or "degenerate"; (3) L'Eveil de la Conscience picturale (the awakening of pictorial awareness), or Group de l'Art contemporain (contemporary art group), itself divided into sub-groups such as Intellectualité et Poésie (intellectuality and poetry), Peintres tragiques (tragic painters), and Permanence de l'Õme orientale (permanency of the eastern soul); (4) Groupe de l'Art moderne (modern art group); and (5) Les Independants (independents). Azar's last group, the independents, consisted mainly of younger artists, some of whom are still active today. The book remains an essential reference for anyone interested in the history of modern art and in Egypt's modern history.