Alex Dika Seggerman: Egyptian Modernism
Alex Dika Seggerman has contributed 105 images of modern Egyptian art to the Artstor Digital Library in conjunction with the publication of her book Modernism on the Nile: Art in Egypt between the Islamic and the Contemporary (UNC Press, 2019). Seggerman, Assistant Professor of Art History at Rutgers University-Newark, describes her distinctive selection:
This collection includes the work of four of the most prominent Egyptian artists of the twentieth century:
Egypt’s most famous modern sculptor, Mahmoud Mukhtar (1891-1934) blends ancient Egyptian motifs with anti-colonial national sentiment and Parisian training. His most celebrated work, Egypt’s Reawakening, still stands in a prominent Cairo square and remains a potent symbol in Egyptian visual culture.
From the coastal town of Alexandria, Mahmoud Said (1897-1964) was a member of the landowning elite, and used saturated oil paint to depict the local aristocracy, his travels in the Mediterranean region, and many nudes. These seductive canvases feature exaggerated colors and forms, and for this reason Said was briefly “adopted” by the Egyptian surrealist movement in the early 1940s.
Abdel Hadi El-Gazzar (1925-1966) came of age during the Free Officer’s Revolution in 1952 and the rise of Arab Socialism under the charismatic leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. In opposition to the francophone, royally funded artists of the previous decades, Gazzar turned to a primitivist style in order to create art that was more accessible to the Egyptian public. After a stint in Rome at the Central Restoration Institute, he turned toward a magical, mechanical style of drawing and painting.
Under Arab socialism in the 1950s and 1960s, women artists like Gazbia Sirry (b. 1925) were well-supported by the government. In her bright canvases from the 1950s, Sirry depicts women in diverse social roles – mothers, teachers, workers, and protesters. Like Gazzar, her canvases become more abstract as the bright dream of Arab nationalism began to fade, until 1967 when her work slid into almost complete abstraction.
Students, instructors, and researchers are becoming more interested in modernisms outside the traditional centers of New York and Paris, yet it remains challenging to find reputable, high-quality digital images of these artworks for study and teaching. Modernism on the Nile aims not only to add to the story of modernism, but also to provide methods for more comparative art historical work. These images will help increase knowledge, study, and research of Global Modernism.
Want to add your own collection to the Artstor Digital Library? Learn how to contribute