She further pursued her art education under the tutelage of Kamel El Telmissany, one of the founders of the Art and Freedom movement. He introduced her to the life of common Egyptian peasant, which was a far cry from her upbringing and education at Lycée Français du Caire. Efflatoun’s immersion into the common Egyptian life transformed her into a staunch nationalist. She refused to further pursue her artistic education in France at the behest of her family. Rooted in her need to discover her Egyptian identity, Efflatoun recounts: “it was impossible for me to leave Egypt and go to counties of the foreigners when I was passing by a hard period of Egyptianizing myself, all my life I talked in French. Eighteen years have slipped in my life in this secluded society even in my native language I could not talk it to the extent that when I began really frequenting the people of my country I couldn’t communicate with them in their language. What a misery I felt un-rooted.”
Inji immersed herself in the political arena becoming very active in women’s group as well as the Egyptian communist party. In 1959 she was secretly arrested and imprisoned by President Gamal Abdel Nasser during his round up of communist members. She remains to be the only female artist to be imprisoned in Egypt. She actively worked throughout her imprisonment, offering a unique insight into the life of the Egyptian female prisoner. Despite her unjust imprisonment during the reign of Nasser, the vigilant patriot Efflatoun acknowledged: “Nasser, although he put me in prison, was a good patriot.”
The current work we are offering - “L’or Blanc,” which translates to White Gold is a unique phrase coined by the Egyptian fellah (peasant) to cotton. As it was the most common commodity traded on the Egyptian stock market. Sotheby’s is honored to be offering an iconic work by Inji Efflatoun on a theme so ubiquitous to the Egyptian national identity – Cotton.
This work is at the cusp of when Efflatoun transitions from her prison paintings to focus on the Egyptian peasants life. Painted in 1967, her aesthetic is further developed as she moves to elaborate on her use of a heavy impasto. This is a similar technique, which she utilized heavily during her prison paintings. The biggest difference we see following her release from prison is the use of vibrant and vivacious colors to elucidate the life of the Egyptian peasant. L’or Blanc is a beautiful embodiment of the Egyptian rural scene.
Okwui Enwezor curator for All the World’s Futures exhibition at the 56th Venice Biennale will also be showcasing examples of works by Inji Efflatoun.
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