A rebel painter with a cause: Injy Efflatoun
A rebel painter with a cause: Injy Efflatoun
In the life of Inji Efflatoun there were long talks of leaked dreams, where freedom covered all languages and art dominated all conversations – Inji Efflatoun was a dreamer, an artist and a activist: a rebel with a cause.
Efflatoun’s roots carry aristocracy and wealth; she was born into an upper-class French-speaking family in 1924. Her father, Hassan Efflatoun was a scientist who established an entomology department at Cairo University, and her mother, Sahla Efflatoun was an unusually independent woman for her era. Efflatoun’s parents divorced when she was a child and her single mother, who inspired her, set up Maison Sahla, a fashion and textile boutique in Cairo.
From an early age, Efflatoun was sheltered in a life detached from Egyptian society, deeply integrated in wealth and opulent in comfort.
She was enrolled in the College of the Sacred Heart, a French Catholic school in Cairo renowned for its discipline. The school’s rigid system and rigor fueled her first steps towards rebellion, and she was later transferred to the Lycée Français du Caire, a prestigious secular French school in Cairo. There, Efflatoun was introduced to political philosophy, learning about Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire and the French Revolution, and Marxism.
After graduating from school, Efflatoun attended the Faculty of Arts at Cairo University and she was among the first female students to attend.
She began her artistic training with the activist, painter and filmmaker Kamel el-Telmissany. El-Telmissany signed the “Long Live Degenerate Art” manifesto in 1938 and became the co-founder of the communist and anti-imperialist surrealist collective “Art & Liberty” in 1939 which lasted until 1945.
In 1942, Efflatoun joined Iskra, an Egyptian communist group. The group discussed colonialism, class elimination, women’s emancipation, and many other issues that would later become important causes in Efflatoun’s life and art. She began to see art as a form of liberation, and Marxist theory inspired Efflatoun to reject her elitist past and stand with working-class Egyptians.
“She had an anger and a desire to be released as a result of her protected and privileged upbringing, wrapped in cellophane […] El Telmissany helped her translate that anger into powerful surreal and imaginary worlds that defy time and space,” explained Fatenn Mostafa, art researcher and founder of the Cairo gallery Art Talks.
Her activism roots ran deep and she was determined to break established orders through her art. Themes of confinement are evident in her early works, where she paints images of frightened women, coiled trees and eerie landscapes.
Efflatoun also wrote two political pamphlets on gender oppression, “Eighty Million Women with Us” in 1948 and “We Egyptian Women” in 1949.
“Many talk about Injy Efflatoun as an artist first and foremost, but that’s not true. His political activism was the most important aspect,” said artist Ezzedine Naguib, a friend of Efflatoun.
Efflatoun was imprisoned for four years during the time of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser due to her involvement in the communist movement in Egypt. It was while she was in prison, however, that Efflatoun painted what is widely considered her finest work.
“Efflatoun’s paintings during his imprisonment, from 1959 to 1963, are among his most powerful works, a window into a world that had been hidden from view,” said Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, an instructor in the program of Islamic civilization and societies in Boston. University.
While incarcerated, Efflatoun depicted life behind bars, but towards the end of her sentence she began to paint subjects that symbolized freedom such as trees and sailboats. After her release in 1963, she began to paint with brighter colors and her style became lighter and more joyful.
Efflatoun died on April 17, 1989, but she remains a true solidarist of the women’s movement in Egypt, an icon of bravery and perseverance. His work was boldly distinctive and is recognized to this day in various regional museums as well as exhibited and studied across West Asia, North Africa, Europe and the United States.
“Through his activism, his manifesto, his paintings and his writings, Injy Efflatoun represented the poor, the forgotten and the oppressed. Even decades later, it is rare to find an artist who has depicted subjects as varied as female prisoners, Palestinian freedom fighters and working class workers with such depth and humanity,” Sultan Al Qassemi said. .
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