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‘Long Live Degenerate Art’ – how a Surrealist group in Cairo defied repression in 1938

All the achievements of contemporary artistic genius from Cézanne to Picasso — the product of the ultimate in freedom, strength and human feeling – have been received with insults and repression. We believe that it is mere idiocy and folly to reduce modern art, as some desire, to a fanaticism for any particular religion, race or nation.

These were the searing words of a group of 37 Cairo-based artists and thinkers known as Art and Liberty in their manifesto ‘Long Live Degenerate Art’ (1938). At the time, totalitarianism and repression was on the rise across Europe. In 1937, the Nazi Party had confiscated modern artworks across Germany and displayed them in Munich at a ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition, meant to frame abstract and expressionistic art as harmful to the national character. This brief animation from Tate recalls how Art and Liberty stood in defiance of oppression and censorship, creating works and spreading ideas that challenged the cultural norms and politics of their time. In doing so, the piece challenges the common understanding of Surrealism as a predominantly European artistic movement.

Video by Tate

Animator: Gemma Green-Hope

18 July 2022

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