UC Berkeley History of Art Department

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Surreality and Possession in the Modern Art of the Arab East

Anneka Lenssen


This talk explores 'Arab Surrealist' ideas and images from the period 1945-53: work by artists and intellectuals in Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria who conceived of the artist's medium as living and shape-shifting material rather than an inanimate means to make a picture on a surface. Lenssen draws on an archive of sketches, critical writings, and artist letters to highlight how figures such as Bishr Fares, Saloua Raouda Choucair, Mounir Canaan, and Fateh al-Moudarres sought to preserve the openness of visual form to possession by other, non-visual entities such as music, atomic energy, and the spirit. At issue in these investigations of surreality was the very nature of sovereign creation in the Arab East, past and future.