Art and the 1952 Revolution
Egypt's artists responded enthusiastically to the programme announced by the 1952 Revolution, the state generously supporting them in return, writes Nagwa El-Ashry
The fine arts underwent a revival following the 1952 Revolution, with artists taking inspiration from the spectacular events of the time, including the nationalisation of the Suez Canal, the Tripartite Aggression, the building of the High Dam, the 1967 War and the War of Attrition.
These times of struggle and ordeal and of glory and defiance were recorded in painting, music, drama and literature, with the state stepping in to sponsor the arts in an unprecedented manner.
Egypt had a dream in those years, and artists rallied around this dream, as one can see from Hamed Oweis's paintings of ordinary people -- farmers, fishermen, barbers, seamstresses, soldiers and so on -- that date from these years. Much the same can be said of Abdel-Hadi El-Gazzar's masterpieces "The Charter" and "The High Dam".
Social realist artists such as Gazbiya Sirri, Tahia Halim, Mohamed Mustafa, Inji Aflaton and El-Ghul Ahmed also painted the countryside and the working classes, projecting images of grit and resolve. The nationalisation of the Suez Canal fired the imagination of a new generation of artists, including Mohamed Sabri, Bikar, Abul-Enein, Ezzeddin Naguib and Mustafa Abdel-Moeti, many of them bringing a new sense of experiment into their work.
Abstract artists such as Saad El-Khadem, Effat Nagui, Omar El-Nagdi and Youssef Sida brought new vitality to the scene, often imparting a touch of modernity to folkloric themes. Shafiq Rizq and Bakhit Farrag produced memorable watercolours, while Sabri Ragheb took the art of the portrait to new heights.
Despite defeat in the 1967 War, the Egyptian art of the time moved on to explore new horizons of form and content. Hamed Said founded the Art and Life Centre, for example, in an attempt to bridge the gap between ordinary people and the fine arts.
In the work of Ahmed Nawwar, Ismat Dawsatsh, Fathi Ahmed, Farghali Abdel-Hafez and Abdel-Rahman El-Nashshar, one sees the gritty determination of artists to lift the spirits of the nation during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The euphoria of victory in the 1973 War took root in the work of El-Sayed Abdu Selim, Mohamed El-Allawi, Salah Anani, Mohamed Abdella and others.
Those who have followed the career of Abdel-Hadi El-Gazzar will be able to trace the changing mood of the nation after 1956. We see workers hard at work in Port Said and Aswan in his works, for example, their faces reflecting the determination of a vibrant period and backgrounds projecting confidence and trust. El-Gazzar's "Rebuilding Port Said" and "The Charter" are emblematic of the age.
The socialist realism of Hamed Oweis also stands out as evocative of the 1960s. Oweis was a true believer in socialism, and his work may seem to some to be propagandistic as a result. However, in fact the paintings are the mirror of his beliefs. Having been active in the leftist movement before 1952, Oweis was thrilled to see the country's revolutionary leaders stand up for the poor and to oppose foreign domination.
In the post-1967 period, Oweis turned to symbolism and myth in an attempt to take local concerns to a broader level that was more humane and less self-centred. Then there was Tharwat Okasha, the minister of culture of the time and the art historian who launched the campaign to save the Nubian Temples in the 1960s, making the sponsorship of artists and art an integral part of the government's work.