Huda Lutfi

1948 | Cairo, Egypt
— Huda Lutfi

Egyptian visual artist and historian.

Huda Lufti was born in Egypt. After graduating with a PhD in history from McGill University, Montréal, in 1983, she returned to her home country, where she taught at the American University in Cairo (AUC) until 2010. Among other courses, she introduced several new ones focusing on Sufism and gender dynamics. In 1991-1992, she also taught at Harvard University, Cambridge. Following major surgery that left her bedridden, she taught herself to make collages from catalogues and images that she collected. She had her first solo exhibition, Women and Memory, at the AUC in 1996.
History and gender are intertwined not only in H. Lufti’s academic research, but also in her artistic work, which covers a wide range of mediums: collage, assemblage painting, photography, sculpture, installation, and video. Her self-taught practice gained recognition in 1997 when she was awarded 2nd prize at the Biennial for Women Artists of the Mediterranean (Marseille and Arles). The same year, H. Lufti relocated to downtown Cairo and set up a studio at the Townhouse Gallery. Since then she has participated in a number of group or solo exhibitions, both locally and internationally. As an heir of the artist Effat Nagy (1905-1994), H. Lufti’s work engages with pharaonic, Coptic, Arabian, African, European and Indian iconography. Like an urban archaeologist, she digs through the city as if it were a palimpsest with overlapping layers of time.

Drawing inspiration from Sufism’s tradition of reflective repetition (dhikr), H. Lufti’s work echoes similar elements, often producing an almost magical effect, whether in the meditative gestures of the artist, in the incantatory power of the pieces, or in the joy that the viewer may experience while looking at them. In the 2000s, H. Lufti’s repetitive approach became a contestation tool to express her criticism of patriarchy and capitalist globalisation. Her assemblages of mass-produced dolls acted as a denunciation of the decline of local craftsmanship in the face of rampant globalising trends. Her series Magnetic Bodies (2018), consisting of installations made out of mannequins – emblematic silhouettes in Cairo’s shopfronts – questioned gendered norms in urbanised spaces.
In 2011, H. Lufti’s proximity to the demonstrations in Tahrir Square facilitated her participation in the events. Guided by her historian instinct, she began to photograph the gatherings and to collect archival material covering the events, which subsequently became the basis for her series Cut and Paste (2013). In 2014, two of the videos from the series won the grand prize at the Alexandria Biennial for Mediterranean Countries. In the series Still (2018), her recycling and collage techniques produced various visual and conceptual outcomes which differed from the exteriority of her previous series and initiated a new exploration of interiority. H. Lufti further examined this inner journey in the series When Dreams Call for Silence (2018), in which she turned to the subliminal and drew inspiration from her dreams and from the writings and memoirs of surrealist artists. The title of the series was inspired by the musings of French-Egyptian surrealist poet Joyce Mansour (1928-1986).

Huda Lufti’s work has gained international recognition and is featured in the collections of the British Museum in London, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Florie Bavard

Translated from French by Florie Bavard et Lucy Pons.

Publication made in the framework of the Season Africa2020.

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