Samir Gharib’s introduction of the book “The Trip of Kamel AL Telmisany ” by Mohsen Elbelasy

The reader of this book notes the tremendous evident effort in compiling a large amount of information about Kamel Al Telmisany and braid it  in one journey. This is the first time that a book has been written on the whole life of Kamel Al Telmisany . I always wished for that to happen since I got to know Kamel on papers through his drawings and writings, while I was experiencing the experience of discovering the Art and Liberty surrealist group. Kamel Al Telmisany is a dramatic character from his beginning to his end. In life, some people are born to be dramatic characters who live and create their lives at the same time. Kamel Al Telmisany belongs to these personalities. I imagine that he lives the drama even while he is sleeping or in silence. I don’t think that he can remain silent for long because he will die if he becomes silent. Perhaps this happened in the last hours of his life: he fell silent and died. I imagine that Kamel wasn’t satisfied with the surrealist movement. It was a stage in his life to which he didn’t fully devote himself and didn’t intend to spend all his life inside it. The drama within him was stronger than any artistic direction. Drama in plastic art remains indirect, whatever emotions that the artist puts within his creations. In the end, they are two or three-dimensional. Life for people like Kamel Al Telmisany represents all dimensions… It is the actual movement to a living being. A painting or statue cannot move from its place because no spirit in them can breathe a movement, no matter how much vitality there is that emanates from this artwork. Kamel Al Telmissany wasn’t satisfied by the life of paintings and statues. He wanted them to turn into living beings like humans. Kamel Al Telmissany, in his short history of  plastic art , tried to make his images emit with as much vitality as possible. Note that he didn’t learn to draw academically, but he worked hard on it and nevertheless succeeded in creating a specific character and style of his art. In his drawings, he also includes dramatic characters. His short journey with the Egyptian Surrealists was his first work. I don’t know how he was living in that period, at the beginning of his life. I don’t imagine that his drawings were generating an income for him to rely  on it at that time. This is a point that needs to be clarified among others. Such a clarification needs to be lived with Kamel or requires to ask those who lived with him during that period. Unfortunately, all of them died and we cannot reach any of them. As well as, of course, the severe lack of documentation in Egypt, or the absence of a documentation culture among Egyptians in general. So I found the documents of the Art and Liberty group, which I relied on in my book, Surrealism in Egypt, in Paris, I didn’t find them in Cairo. Even the magazines of the Egyptian surrealists from which I took the material for my book and that were in the Egyptian House of Books disappeared afterward. Although I am the only one who has obtained the most available documents of the Egyptian Surrealist movement, I have always wished I had lived with the members of Art and Liberty group in their time, only to document all their details. It is a pity that no one did this at that time.

In any case, Kamel al Telmissany was a “curly shooting star ” who passed on the Egyptian surrealist movement.

One of the features of this book is that it places us in the atmosphere of this surrealist movement and adds new personal information to what I already knew about some of its characters and those in contact with it. It seems that this movement, with its revolutionary, pioneering, and influence, didn’t fully satisfy Kamel Al Telmissany and he didn’t find an outlet in it to express the great dramatic energies within him, so he entered the world of cinema, and he didn’t leave the plastic art yet. Of course, for someone like him, cinema was an attractant. Cinema has characters who live on the edge of life and in its arena at the same time. Within the world of cinema, some women were previously painted by Kamel Al Telmissany or appeared in some of his texts.

Within the world of cinema, there is a mysterious atmosphere that the Art and Liberty group didn’t experience, It contained varying fates, up and down, and in between. This constant anxiety, insatiable hunger, intense relationships, etc. was a magnet to a character like Kamel: attracted him and attracted others to him. Then Al Telmisany lived most of his life in the world of cinema… While his active period in plastic art didn’t exceed a decade.

Through this short decade,  Kamel was not affected by much of the influence he made. I envision him with a strong, hard personality and some stubbornness… Kamel was able, with his personality, to be a teacher for an artist who has many of his qualities despite her femininity :  Inji Aflatoun. While we don’t clearly know of a teacher of Kamel Al Telmissany. We know who helped him in the field of plastic art or who introduced him, but it does not seem to me, at least, that there was any professor for Kamel al Telmissany in this field. So, Kamel al Telmissany is considered pastoral in some way. He also educated himself. I don’t know yet how he was able to write in French such articles as the ones he published in Don Quixote, which would require a stylistic study of  its French language. When did Kamel learn French, where and how many years did he learn it ? I had hoped that the book of dear Mohsen Elbelasy would clear such gaps. But Mohsen worked hard, however, to make what he was able to achieve… As for the strong Arabic language of Kamel as well, it is certain that his self-reliance is behind his mastery of it, perhaps with the help of his studies in the distinguished public schools that he joined. It seems that Kamel had a wide culture. It was undoubtedly enriched by his joining to the founders of Art and Liberty group. It is known that these founders were a mixture of Egyptians or those who make themselves Egyptians and foreigners, and a mixture of multiple ethnicities, religions, and atheists as well. But they were in the predominant political direction, which was Trotskyism and Marxism. The mixing of these must-have increased the cultural richness of Kamel Al Telmissany: intellectually, artistically, and politically. Art and Liberty group was a school in which Al Telmisany was educated and taught. He had also mingled with other artistic groups before the Art and Liberty group which were in possession of this human mixture that was in the group of Surrealists. This is how Egypt was in the first half of the twentieth century: a diverse cultural richness. In such an atmosphere, talents like Kamel and others would have emerged and must have flourished. It was also natural that Egypt lacked such talents after this first half of the twentieth century until it became arid since the end of the second half of the twentieth century, and its barrenness increased over time. What a loss.

Mohsen Elbelasy was able to walk through the life stages of Kamel Al Telmissany and move with him from one stage to another until he reached Beirut, and his life, and his death there. However, this biography still needs to be completed and further explored. Kamel’s biography is a slice of the biography of Egypt from the twentieth century until Kamel’s death. Therefore, the comparison between the personalities and lives of Kamel’s friends and colleagues in the Art and Liberty group helps to clarify aspects that may still not be clear enough in the lives of each one of them. Then shed more light on the reality of Egypt in that period which was full of life in any case. Of course this is the utility of comparative studies. So why did the fates of these friends branch out, and is it normal for them to branch out ? But searching within these fates is useful for knowledge. Why did Kamel Al Telmisany leave plastic art and enter cinematic art? Why did he leave the world of surrealism in writing and drawing, and entered the realist direction of writing and cinema? Why did his colleagues Ramses Younan and Fouad Kamel leave the world of surrealism and enter the realm of abstraction ?

Mohsen Elbelasy presents his attempt to answer such questions in this pioneering book about Kamel Al Telmissany. However, Kamel’s personality and life require more researches and books. For example, I hope that someone will collect all of Kamel’s articles, whether in French or Arabic and puts them in a book, study and analyze them. History rarely gives us a character like Kamel Al Telmissany. I also hope that another book will be devoted to the cinema of Kamel Al Telmissany, study and criticism. Of course, there is a great effort that Mohsen Elbelasy has made on this book here. But he made an effort, among his other efforts, to investigate the life of Kamel Al Telmissany which is long, broad, rich, and varied.

Another thread that needs to be clarified is  Kamel’s relationship with women. Surrealists had a special attitude toward women, which I also wish someone had studied in particular, whether on the level of the international surrealist movement with its French capital, or the level of the Egyptian surrealist movement in the first half of the twentieth century. As far as I know, none of Kamel’s colleagues married more than one wife, while Kamel married at least four times, as mentioned in this book. We didn’t find any explanations about these marriages, except for two lines about one marriage! The issue here is not personal freedom, and enough. This is part of the life of a single Egyptian creator. What is the relationship between the thoughts and actions of Kamel here ?

The same stands about politics: Mohsen Elbelasy tried to explore this issue as regards Kamel, but it would need more research and comparisons between Kamel’s stances and those of his colleagues of the Art and Liberty group.

All this means what it means most clearly: that this book by Mohsen Elbelasy is rich enough to open more doors for research and exploration, and that the personality and life of Kamel AlTelmissany is undoubtedly worthy of it.


Thank you, Professor Mohsen Elbelasy.

Samir Gharib

Translated by Mohsen Elbelasy

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