Imagining Egypt: nationalist art in the era of state-building,1900-1934

Ruth Marcus


This thesis analyzes the relationship between nationalism and modern art in Egypt during the first three decades of the twentieth century, looking in particular at how that relationship unfolded in the career of sculptor Mahmud Mukhtar. Through a methodology based upon Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology of art, the thesis presents the “mood of the age,” or the historical, sociopolitical and economic context in which Mukhtar worked, along with Mukhtar’s biography, before moving on to analyze some of his most significant sculptures. The conclusion drawn is that nationalism and modern art were mutually dependent during the early twentieth century. Artists like Mukhtar drew upon nationalist support and worked within a nationalist symbolic system; nationalists incorporated the arts into their discourse and projects of reform. Therefore the understanding of either one (Egyptian nationalism or Egyptian modern art) would be incomplete without attention to the other.