As such, Fellrath says, the group has been something of an urban myth. “We didn’t even know what the visuals looked like,” he says, “or how all the pieces of the puzzle would fit together. It really felt like we were starting from scratch.”
The five years it took to put together the resulting exhibition, “Art et Liberte: Rupture, War and Surrealism in Egypt (1938–1948)” led them through 12 countries, 46 public and private collections, and 200 interviews, and culminated in a showcase that marshals together 130 artworks and more than 150 archival documents. “The whole endeavor was one of an ongoing process of inquiry, of uncovering, excavating, re-learning, highlighting certain thinking processes and bringing it all together to look at objectively,” says Fellrath.
One major treasure trove turned out to be the Egyptian National Archives, where newspapers from the period are stored. As the archive has not yet been digitized, it required a painstaking process of combing through materials page by page. “It took a long time,” admits Bardaouil, “and you have to go back to the central question: what is curating? What is the difference between the buzzword and the actual job? It takes conviction and perseverance and commitment to do proper in-depth research.”
Another challenge was the wide dispersion of materials, a consequence of the geographical spread of the group’s members from the late 1940s onwards. An entire cache of copies of the weekly newspaper La Semaine Egyptienne (published 1926–40), for example, had ended up at a university in Japan.