Inji Efflatoun was an artist and political activist born into an upper-class francophone family of landowners in 1924. Her father, Hassan C. Efflatoun, was the founder of the Entomology Department, and Dean of the Faculty of Science at Cairo University and her mother, Salha Efflatoun, served in the Women's Committee of the Egyptian Red Crescent Society. The parents divorced when she and her elder sister, Gulperie, were children. Their mother established a fashion and textile boutique in Cairo and Inji was strongly inspired by her mother's courage and determination in living as a single working mother.
Inji Efflatoun was educated at the Collège du Sacré Coeur in Cairo before she joined the Lycée Français where she developed an interest in literature and political history and was introduced to Marxism. At the beginning of the 1940's, she was one of the first women to attend the Faculty of Arts at Cairo University. During her studies, Efflatoun showed an interest in art and from 1940, she studied under the painter and filmmaker Kamel el-Tilmisani (1917 - 1972), renowned for his tormented works, which satirized social norms. El-Tilmisani introduced Efflatoun to the surrealist group Art and Liberty founded in 1939 by writer George Henein (1914 - 1973). She later studied for one year under the Swiss born artist Margo Veillon before working in the studio of the painter Hamed Abdallah.
Efflatoun was active as a feminist and political activist as well as an artist. In 1942, she joined the Egyptian Communist organization Iskra (al-sharāra) and in 1945 she was one of the founding members of the League of University and Institutes' Young Women. She published several political pamphlets including 80 milyoun imra'a ma'anā (80 Million Women with Us) and Nahnu al-nisaa' al-missriyyat (We Egyptian Women), respectively in 1948 and 1949. After she met intellectual and feminist Sayza Nabarawi in 1950, Efflatoun joined the Youth Committee of the Egyptian Feminist Union. In 1951, she participated with Nabarawi and other female activists in the organization of the Women's Committee for Popular Resistance. During the mid-1950's, she traveled to Upper Egypt, Nubia and the oases and was inspired by rural daily life. Towards the end of the 1950's, her paintings became more politically engaged. In March 1959, her political activities resulted in her being secretly arrested under Gamal Abdel Nasser along with other twenty-five female political activists. Efflatoun was imprisoned for four and a half years and painted throughout her incarceration. In July 1963, Efflatoun was released from incarceration and painting became her main activity until her death in 1989.
Efflatoun's paintings are strongly inspired by the social reality of the people of the Egyptian working class, such as peasants, craftsmen and laborers, with a special focus on women and their daily struggle. Her early works reflect the influence of Kamel el-Tilmisani and the Art and Liberty Group, as they represent a tormented imaginary world. In 1956, Efflatoun met Mexican muralist artist David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896 - 1974) during his visit to Egypt and his social realist work made a profound impression on her. During her incarceration, she portrayed the difficult reality of prison life, such as women in the dormitories or behind bars. Towards the end of her imprisonment period, she shifted away from social realism to paint subjects that symbolized the sense of freedom, such as trees and sailboats. After she was released in 1963, her style became lighter and more joyful, using vibrant colors to depict the countryside and daily life of the Egyptian worker. These works are characterized by the rhythm of textured brushstrokes playing with the blanks of the canvas to express light. In her late career, in the 1980's, her patterned textured strokes became purer, progressively showing more blanks on the canvas.
Efflatoun works can be found in her permanent collection at Amir Taz Palace in Medieval Cairo where more than eighty works and a collection of her personal items are displayed, in the collection of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha and the Museum of Egyptian Modern Art in Cairo. In January and February 2014, the Safar Khan Gallery in Cairo dedicated a retrospective exhibition to Inji Efflatoun entitled "Inji's World."
|2014||Retrospective exhibition entitled "Inji's World", Safar Khan Gallery, Cairo, Egypt|
|1981||Egyptian Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, Italy|
|1975||Curated and participated in the exhibition "Ten Egyptian Women Paintersover Half a Century", Cairo, Egypt|
|1974||Solo touring exhibition in Moscow, Prague and Sofia|
|1958||Alexandria Biennial, Egypt|
|1956||Cairo Atelier, Egypt|
|1953||Sao Paolo Biennial, Brazil|
|_____||Amitiés Françaises d'Alexandrie, Egypt|
|1952||First individual exhibition, Gallerie Adam, Cairo, Egypt|
|_____||Venice Biennial, Italy|
|_____||Galerie Aladin, Cairo, Egypt|
|1942 - 1943||Exhibition of the Art and Liberty Group, Cairo, Egypt|
Awards and Honors
|1985 - 1986||"Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres" The Award of Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters, French Ministry of Culture|
|1959 ||The Top Prize, Landscape Competition, during an exhibition organized by the Ministry of Culture |
|1956, 1957||Two Prizes from Cairo Salon, Egypt|
Modern Egyptian art, Art and Liberty Group, feminism, communism, political activism, social realism, Egyptian working class, prison life.
Atiyya, Nac īm, Injī Aflātūn (Inji Efflatoun). Cairo: Ministry of Information, General InformationOrganization, Series: Description of Contemporary Egypt through Plastic Arts, 1986.
Azar, Aimé. Femmes peintres d'Égypte. Cairo: Imprimerie française, 1953.
Laduke, Betty. "Egyptian painter Inji Efflatoun: the Merging of Art, Feminism and Politics." NWSA Journal, vol. 1, no 3, Spring 1989, pp. 474-485.
Laduke, Betty. "Inji Efflatoun, Art, Feminism and Politics in Egypt." Art Education, vol. 45, no 2, March 1992, pp. 33-41.
Abaza, Mona (Introduction). Twentieth-Century Egyptian Art: The Private Collection of Sherwet Shafei, Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2011.
Badran, Margot. Feminists, Islam and Nation: Gender and the Making of Modern Egypt. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1995.
Sac īd Khayāl (ed.). Mudhakkirāt Injī Aflātūn (The Memoirs of Inji Efflatoun). Kuwait: Dar Sucād al-Sabāh, 1993.
Link to Safar Khan exhibition Inji's World: http://safarkhan.com/Ex-ArtWork.aspx?artistid=213&type=current&exid=571