Long Live Degenerate Art!

Editors’ note: The Egyptian surrealist movement really doesn’t get a whole lot of attention from scholars or radical arts types. This is a shame because in their short time they created some impressive work. And with the boot of repression firmly falling on the Egyptian revolution (along with the workers movement and any dissidence — political or cultural) it stands to reason that there is much to learn from the movement. 

The manifesto published below was penned by artists who were affiliated not just with the global surrealist movement but by and large the Fourth International -- at that time the main global organization formed by allies of Leon Trotsky on the basis of a rejection of Stalinism. Andre Breton and a great many of surrealism’s luminaries in the West were likewise connected with the International and attempted to forge the International Federation of Independent Revolutionary Art (acronymed as FIARI) toward the purpose of corralling artists in the name of creative freedom against both capitalism and Stalinism. The dawn of World War II meant that FIARI was practically stillborn.

The Egyptian affiliate would continue well beyond the federation’s collapse. The statement below was drafted seventy-five years ago today. More can be learned about Egyptian surrealism here.

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We know with what hostility current society looks upon any new literary or artistic creation that directly or indirectly threatens the intellectual disciplines and moral values of behavior on which it depends for a large part of its own life — its survival.

This hostility is appearing today in totalitarian countries, especially in Hitler’s Germany, through the most despicable attacks against an art that these tasselled brutes, promoted to the rank of omniscient judges, qualify as degenerate.

All the achievements of contemporary artistic genius from Cézanne to Picasso — the product of the ultimate in freedom, strength and human feeling — have been received with insults and repression. We believe that it is mere idiocy and folly to reduce modern art, as some desire, to a fanaticism for any particular religion, race or nation.

Along these lines we see only the imprisonment of thought, whereas art is known to be an exchange of thought and emotions shared by all humanity, one that knows not these artificial boundaries.

Vienna has been left to a rabble that has torn Renoir’s paintings and burned the writings of Freud in public places. The best works by great German painters such as Max Ernst, Paul Klee, Karl Hoffer, Kokoschka, George Grosz and Kandinsky have been confiscated and replaced by Nazi art of no value. The same recently took place in Rome where a committee was formed to purge literature, and, performing its duties, decided to eliminate works that went against nationalism and race, as well as any work raising pessimism.

O men of art, men of letters! Let us take up the challenge together! We stand absolutely as one with this degenerate art. In it resides all the hopes of the future. Let us work for its victory over the new Middle Ages that are rising in the heart of Europe.

The following artists, writers, journalists and lawyers have signed this manifesto:

Ibrahim Wassily, Ahmed Fahmy, Edouard Pollack, Edouard Levy, Armand Antis, Albert Israel, Albert Koseiry, Telmessany, Alexandra Mitchkowivska, Emile Simon, Angelo Paulo, Angelo De Riz, Anwar Kamel, Annette Fadida, A. Paulitz, L. Galenti, Germain Israel, George Henein, Hassan Sobhi, A. Rafo, Zakaria AL Azouny, Samy Riad, Samy Hanouka, Escalette, Abd El Din, Mohamed Nour, Nadaf Selair, Hassia, Henry Domani.

Cairo, December 22, 1938.

Art et Liberté was founded in 1939 by a group of Surrealist writers and artists in Egypt. More can be learned about them at the Egyptian Surrealism website.