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Ola Seif, "Van Leo: The Reluctant Surrealist"

Thursday, March 1, 2018 - 4:45pm

Kaufmann Auditorium, Goldwin-Smith Hall
ICM Lecture Series

Special Collections Curator, American University in Cairo

Ola Seif sheds light on Armenian-Egyptian photographer Levon Boyadijian's (known professionally as “Van Leo”) artistic works, particularly his self-portraits produced in the Forties in the Cairene shadow of WWII turbulence. Cairo in the 1940s was a highly cosmopolitan city; its downtown streets teemed with international entertainers as well as British, Australian, and South African soldiers. Van Leo began his photography career in a metropolis already richly saturated with successful professional portrait studios. Despite his status as a newcomer, Van Leo's studio was soon the object of local and international attention. His surrealist tendencies, as seen in his wartime self-portraits, were a particular source of fascination. Seif analyzes the intricate relationship between Van-Leo's self-portraiture and the socio-political milieu of mid-century Cairo. Seif’s lecture will also discuss the extent to which Van Leo’s work was influenced by the rise of Egyptian Surrealism, as exemplified by the Art and Liberty (Art et Liberté) group operating simultaneously in the same city.

Ola Seif is a Cairo-based art historian and a collector of vintage Egyptian photographs. She obtained her M.A. (2005) in Islamic Art and Architecture from the American University in Cairo. Her current research interests are focused on European and Armenian photographers in nineteenth and twentieth century Egypt. Since 2006, she has been the curator of the photography and cinema collections at the Rare Books and Special Collections Library of the American University in Cairo Library which houses the personal effects and professional archives of noted architecture historian K.A.C. Creswell, architect Hassan Fathy, and Armenian-Egyptian photographer Van Leo (born Levon Alexander Boyadjian), in addition to many other treasures.

This event is free and open to the public. If you need accommodations to participate in this event, please contact as soon as possible.

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