A major figure in Egyptian modernism and the contemporary art canon, the painter, poet, and critic Ahmed Morsi has only recently begun to gain recognition in the West. “Ahmed Morsi in New York: Elegy of the Sea” brings together a number of paintings from 1983 to 2012 that the artist made in New York, where he continues to live. Morsi came of age in the 1940s and was part of the Alexandria School, a key cultural movement that placed the Egyptian city on the map as an emerging Mediterranean metropole in the postwar period. When Morsi arrived in New York in 1974, his paintings transformed, taking on a lyrical blue and solemn landscape that evoked his seaside homeland, the port city of Alexandria.
In this distinctive body of work, Morsi creates surreal, fantastical landscapes populated by recurring figures, real and imagined: fish out of water, androgynous subjects, mythological horses, human-size clocks, and images within images. This Surrealist vocabulary emerges from Morsi’s experience of dislocation, memories of the city and sea in Alexandria, and the simultaneous experience of crowdedness and solitude living in diaspora.
Morsi’s universal maritime scenes represent multiple seas, as well as feelings of placelessness, repetition, and loss. His aesthetic corpus reflects a uniquely Egyptian Surrealist practice that bridges the visual and the textual, where painting and poetry are intimately connected. They also concretely reflect the loss of an Alexandria that once was, the stories and memories the artist carries, and the political conditions that shape modern and contemporary life. Morsi’s sea is a portal for dreams and a mode of envisioning the world: elegiac, mythological, and otherworldly. To engage with Morsi in New York is to encounter the sea’s hold on the material of the city, or, as Morsi ponders in his poetry: “Did the sea dry up? / A question kept returning to me time and again / as I was dragging my defeated ship over asphalt stones.”
Ahmed Morsi (b. 1930, Alexandria, Egypt) has exhibited work in solo and group exhibitions around the world including, most recently, “Detail From a Mural,” Salon 94, New York (2021); “Greater New York,” MoMA PS1, Long Island City, Queens (2021); “When Art Becomes Liberty: The Egyptian Surrealists (1938–65),” National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea, Seoul (2017); and “Ahmed Morsi: A Dialogic Imagination,” Sharjah Art Foundation (2017). Morsi’s work is held in numerous collections around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art; Kiran Museum of Art, New Delhi, India; Sharjah Art Foundation; and the Museum of Egyptian Modern Art, Cairo, among others.
“Ahmed Morsi in New York: Elegy of the Sea” is organized by ICA Miami and curated by Donna Honarpisheh, Associate Curator.
Exhibitions at ICA Miami are supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Major support is provided by Kathy and Steven Guttman and the Nicoll Family Fund.