The reluctant surrealist
The College of Architecture, Art and Planning is hosting the first solo exhibition in the U.S. of Armenian-Egyptian photographer Van-Leo, a portraitist with an experimental practice on the fringe of the surrealist movement.
On display through Sept. 26 in the Bibliowicz Family Gallery in Milstein Hall, the self-portraits and documents in “Van-Leo: The Reluctant Surrealist” capture important events and metamorphoses in the artist’s life, and highlight Van-Leo’s obscure connection to the mid-century Egyptian surrealist movement.
A reception, Sept. 11 at 5 p.m., is free and open to the public and features a gallery talk by Salah Hassan, the Goldwin Smith Professor of African and African Diaspora Art History and Visual Culture.
Van-Leo (1920-2002), born Levon Boyadjian, ran a successful studio in Cairo while the Art and Liberty Group of surrealists was flourishing at the other end of the city.
His artistic self-portraits, particularly those produced in the 1940s, echo Man Ray and Maurice Tabard, and foreshadow Cindy Sherman’s work 30 years later in their approach to genre and role-play. Constantly experimenting, he used his self-portraits to test new setups and photographic techniques including solarisation, use of glass shields and filters, sandwiched negatives, multiple exposures and creative lighting effects.
The exhibition is sponsored by the Institute for Comparative Modernities (ICM) and is accompanied by a catalogue with essays by Ola Seif, who lectured on Van-Leo last March on campus, and Hassan, ICM’s director. Van-Leo’s archive is maintained by the Rare Books and Special Collections Library at the American University in Cairo
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