The Enji Aflatoun Museum: An Insight into One of Egypt’s Most Rebellious Artists
Situated in the heart of Islamic Cairo, the 14th century-built Prince Taz Palace is home to the Enji Aflatoun Museum; one of the most remarkable and interesting cultural spots in Cairo, featuring snippets from the life and artwork of late Egyptian artist, Enji Aflatoun.
An aristocrat, former journalist and a women’s rights activist, Enji Aflatoun was born into a wealthy family in 1924. Early on in her life, Aflatoun developed a major interest in art and it was through Kamel Al-Tilmisani, her art mentor, that she discovered her own style and began developing her painting techniques. In 1942, Aflatoun joined socialist youth party, Iskra, which marked the beginning of her pursuits as a women’s rights advocate.
Established in 2011, the Enji Aflatoun’s Museum is a modern space with laminate flooring, air-conditioning and adequate lighting; the contents within the space, however, dates back to the early 1900s, telling the story of a remarkable woman leaving behind a rich and admirable artistic journey.
Upon entering the ancient grounds of the Prince Taz Palace, we saw that the museum is essentially one long hallway set out much like a gallery; it displays all of Aflatoun’s paintings as well as a collection of tools she once used, including palette knives, brushes and charcoal amongst other personal items.
In contrast to her to her aristocratic upbringing, Aflatoun’s works largely portrays rural life in Egypt, with a special focus on women, using bright colours and loose marks.
Aflatoun’s paintings are simple yet direct in their meanings using mostly water colours and oils on hardboard or paper; they are not great in size—approximately 30.5 X 50cm— yet their meanings are powerful.
Aflatoun’s very first painting, Girl and the Beast, is displayed by the museum’s doorway; whereas Aflatoun’s final creation Breathe of Freedom is displayed at the end of the hall.
The style between these particular two pieces varies immensely; Girl and the Beast is a colorful and surreal piece depicting a girl entangled in the arms of a dark beast over a bright scenic background, whereas Breathe of Freedom holds a stronger deeper meaning, depicting a dark prison cell with a flock of white birds flying above to contrast to the bleakness of the prison and portray the sense of being free.
In 1958, Aflatoun was arrested for defending women’s rights for four years, though that didn’t stop her from painting; in fact, her imprisonment inspired a much deeper style in colour with harsher lines and darker expressions.
Looking around the museum, it seems that many of Aflatoun’s later paintings do indeed portray darker scenes and prison images. Night Behind Jail Bars, for example, depicts a beautiful scene with a sweep of calm sky contrasted by the thick iron bars she looks through. Another piece features a woman behind bars defined by strong harsh lines; her eyes and her expressions are fierce, depicting the severity of life in prison.
Aflatoun participated in several exhibitions inside and outside of Egypt winning awards from Germany, Russia, France, Italy, Spain, Peru, Switzerland and the US.
Inside the museum, there is also a glass display cabinet preserving old black and white photographs of Aflatoun, newspaper articles from which she was featured, as well as a collection of books including We are Egyptian Women, which she wrote.
Overall, the Enji Aflatoun Museum is an interesting excursion to fans of art in the city. It is free of charge and provides an insight into the life and works of a remarkable Egyptian artist. Aflatoun died in 1989, yet her artwork, her story and her legacy continue to live inside the walls of the museum.