Born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1924; died in Cairo in 1989.
While Inji Efflatoun’s life was marked by phases of color and agony, her paintings vibrate with the spirit of revolution. In his preface to an exhibition catalogue in 1964, the French artist Jean Lurcat summed up Efflatoun’s impetus as follows: “She does not listen except to the Egyptian voice which is her profound heritage. That sound is that of the desert, the Nile, and the horizon of her burning soul.” Like many artists whose lives intersected with revolutionary times, Efflatoun’s art is inseparable from the context within and out of which it emerged. Mentored by the expressionist painter Kamel El Telmissany, a protagonist in the surrealist-inflected Art and Liberty Group, Efflatoun joined a generation of artists whose creativity merged with the swelling tides of antifascist and communist movements in Egypt.
From an early age, Efflatoun was politically active in feminist and communist circles. She eventually spent four and a half years in prison for her activities, starting in 1959, under president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Before this period, her painting was informed by an insatiable need to know her country’s history. Efflatoun travelled to ancient towns like Luxor and rural areas such as Nubia that still maintained its folk traditions, and where she observed people working rhythmically in common activities. While she was imprisoned, she began to capture a rawer and more candid representation of the human condition, the arduous physical labor of working people and the Egyptian peasantry’s struggle for sustenance. When she was released in 1964, Efflatoun’s radicalism and creativity was undiminished, but her attention turned to a renewed vision of the world informed by the simplicity of a nature she feared she may never experience again. More than half a century after Efflatoun’s work was first shown at the 29th Biennale di Venezia in 1968, her bucolic and troublesome paintings remain as arresting as the stories they tell. Beyond the mere prescience of their political context in the wake of the Arab Spring and continued sectarian violence, Efflatoun’s paintings are forever intertwined with the historical trajectory of her country and its people, their hopes and aspirations.