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Unsi al-Hajj

Avant-garde and Its Networks

Talking About Art

Newsletter 5/2016
Events and News

"Who Are You, Nadja?" Unsi al-Hajj and the Encounter of Arabic Literature with Surrealism
Public research seminar
Thursday, 26 May 2016, 6-8pm, Orient-Institut Beirut
When the Lebanese poet Unsi al-Hajj (1937-2014) adopted the programme of Surrealism in the late 1950s, identifying himself with the most radical figures of the Parisian movement (Antonin Artaud and André Breton, among others), he was not unaware of the implications of such a mission. For Surrealism was, for many Arab intellectuals in that period, the emblem of literary "heresy", "anti-Arabism", and "Western decadence". Al-Hajj thus had to face the indignation of critics and poets alike, and soon became the enfant terrible of Arabic literature, and the most despicable of all his peers. By exploring his encounters with pivotal surrealist figures, this lecture will trace the itinerary of al-Hajj and shed light on his subsequent literary and intellectual developments. It will also consider his reception as a surrealist and avant-gardist figure in later generations of Lebanese and Arab writers.
Alfred El-Khoury holds a Master's degree in Arabic Language and Literature (AUB) and is currently pursuing his doctoral studies at the University of Bamberg, Germany. 

CfP: The Avant-garde and its Networks: Surrealism in Paris, North Africa and the Middle East from the 1930s
International Workshop
14-15 November 2016, Orient-Institut Beirut
Call for Papers deadline: 15 June 2016

Surrealism - along with Futurism - can be considered as one of the few avant-garde movements of the early twentieth century that was established in Cairo. In 1939, Georges Henein, Kamel el-Telmessany, Ramses Younan and Anwar and Fouad Kamel founded the Art and Freedom group, which continued until the late 1940s. The group was probably the only official one in the region with a direct link to André Breton. Surrealist ideas also spread to other places in the region, for instance Beirut. The Paris of Breton is commonly considered as the intellectual and artistic centre from which Surrealism spread to other European and non-European cities. Research into Surrealism in the Middle East and North Africa is still in its infancy, despite an increased interest in the subject in the last couple of years. The OIB and our sister institute the German Forum for Art History in Paris are convening a workshop that will focus on the international networks between Paris, Beirut, Cairo, and other cities from North Africa to Iran. The workshop seeks to shed light on Surrealism as a political, social, literary and artistic phenomenon that migrated beyond Europe, but remained closely tied to its Parisian heartland, at least at the beginning. The aim is to gather information about the networks and reception of Surrealism, and thereby to approach its dissemination in the region more systematically. Read further details here.


Research Spotlight

Talking About Art and Aesthetic Reflection
The research project of OIB Research Associate Monique Bellan is situated in the context of aesthetics and politics, and looks at developments of art discourses in Lebanon and Egypt since the early 20th century. The current focus is on the artistic and literary avant-garde in Cairo and Beirut, and their position towards "authority". Particular attention is being paid to Surrealism. The Surrealists challenged bourgeois values and traditions, and wanted to push aesthetic, political and social boundaries to dissolve the dominant order and norms. The research project examines how did they intended to subvert and diversify the prevailing discourse, and how this entered the artistic and literary works on the one hand and political debates on the other. Furthermore, the project is interested in the development of Surrealist ideas and the status they have today. The question of networks is central to the project: Where and how did exchange take place, how were processes of transfer, translation and selection shaped, what was assumed, which aspects were ignored?
Monique Bellan joined the OIB in 2013 as Research Associate. She received her PhD in Oriental Studies from Freie Universität Berlin in 2012. Her thesis was published in 2013, entitled dismember remember: The anatomical theatre of Lina Saneh and Rabih Mroué (Reichert Verlag Wiesbaden). She has previously worked at the Academy of Arts in Berlin and the Collaborative Research Center "Aesthetic experience and the dissolution of artistic limits" in Berlin. Her research interests include politics, aesthetics and language; the artistic and literary avant-garde; contemporary artistic practices; art theory; the nahda
Talking About Art is part of the research cluster Knowledge and the Public Sphere.

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