At the Independent Art Exhibition Surrealist photography.
I had just arrived. “I don’t think,” said an honest “Art Critic” (an Arabic speaker) who was about to leave the Exhibition, “I don’t think that there has ever been, in Egypt, such an upsurge of extravagance …” And he turned back to show me a few works that he found “diabolical.” “Look at that,” he said, questioningly. “Surely you don’t claim to be able to understand this head …” “You accuse it of hermeticism,” I replied calmly, “because you have never taken the trouble to understand the artist’s concerns.” “But this artist is illogical.” “Remember, dear friend, the words of your favorite author, Anatole France, who wrote: ‘Absurd things are the only agreeable things, the only beautiful ones, the only ones that give grace to life and stop us dying of boredom. A poem, a statue, a rational painting—these would make any man yawn, even a reasonable one’.” He paused in front of photographs by Idabel. “And that…?” he asked, with an ironic tone. “Is that still absurd, or is it ‘pure’ art?” We were looking at the head of a woman, half of whose face had been savagely removed. All that remained was the hair, an eye, and half of an admirably well-mutilated mouth. A triangle cut through her face. A classical triangle, no doubt designed by a talented architect. “Well?” he said. “Well, what? You know full well that there is no light without form … and that there is no form that does not need to be modified by the artist if he is intent on correcting nature in order to anchor the depths of the human soul. The majestic stiffness of the pose has something aloof about it, like a statue. Look at that mouth: this woman’s voice must have the sonority of a crystal vase. And why should the photographer leave two eyes in a face when one is enough to give the required expression?” “You must take the trouble to understand the aim of this sort of photograph. Look: here, a bright surface was pressed against the left eye. Hence, a strong reaction. This shadow gave an impression of music, thus the need for the artist to eliminate this relationship of tones. Idabel does not retouch in the way that an ordinary photographer does; he stylizes like a painter, stylizes to concretize that which is abstract in human faces in order to attain a new qualification, specific individuals obtained from the starting point of a general type. He uses black and white even when black is a diaphanous shadow. Cézanne made a bottle into a cylinder. Photography, though, takes the cylinder as its starting point to create women of different types: Cézanne moves towards architecture whereas Idabel moves away from it; do you see? Look carefully at this transparent triangle, like a goddess’s veil: it is a window open to the infinite. Finding the face a little bare, the photographer has adorned it with orchestral finery whose most important quality is this freshness that lends the work a moving youthfulness. A goddess’s veil!” “It may be that you prefer sensual distortions and sentimental nuances. But if you are not moved before a work such as this then you must already be taking the bait of the photographer-watercolorists … and in that case I pity you and wonder, surprised that I have not done so earlier, what made you come here today?” The honest “Art Critic” left me without a word. In his lazulite eyes, in which seemed to tremble the image of a mosque, I thought I saw engraved, as though for an exorcism, a verse of the Koran, in Kufic script.
La Cinquième Exposition de l’Art Indépendant, C.
de Rives Le Journal d’Égypte, juin 1, 1945