Modernism on the Nile: Art in Egypt Between the Islamic and the Contemporary

Univ. of North Carolina. Sept. 2019. 296p. ISBN 9781469653044. $34.95. REL
It might be assumed that in majority Sunni Muslim Egypt the representational figurative arts would be proscribed. However, Seggerman (Islamic art history, Rutgers Univ.) reveals that that isn’t the case, in her study of the evolution of Egyptian modernism from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. In 1904, Islamic jurist, scholar, and reformer Muhammad Abduh (1849–1905) published an article “focusing on painting and sculpture, reversing the Islamic prohibition on images for the modern era.” The blossoming of native Egyptian artistic sensibility is traced through the photographs of Princess Nazli Fazil (1853–1913), the graphics of Yaqub Sanua (1839–1912), the monumental sculptures of Mahmoud Mukhtar (1891–1934), and the paintings of Mahmoud Said (1897–1964) and Abdel Hadi El-Gazzar (1925–66). All had traveled and/or trained in Euro-Mediterranean art circles and were part of transnational movements such as surrealism but transcended them to express their Egyptian and Muslim heritage as well as nascent nationalism. Seggerman also analyzes the transformation of the image of the peasant woman (fellaha) with a water jug, from an often exploitative depiction by foreigners to a powerful symbol of the emerging modern nation.
VERDICT This richly illustrated, scholarly book is recommended for anyone with an interest in modern Middle Eastern art and society.
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