Samir Rafi

The oeuvre of Samir Rafi is manifold and captivating. The artist represented Egyptian daily life, but also metaphysical and deeply universal themes, repeatedly infused with surrealism and symbolism. Rafi was mentored from an early age by prominent artists such as Shafik Rizk and Angelo de Riz, and later by Saad El Khadem and Hussein Bicar, among others. After attending secondary school under the eminent art educator Hussein Youssef Amin, Rafi graduated at the top of his class in the Decorative Arts Department from the School of Fine Arts in 1948. Exhibiting with the Art et Liberté group in 1945, he later became a founding member of the Contemporary Art Group with his mentor Amin. During the 1940s and 1950s, Rafi received critical acclaim from artists such as Ramses Younan, poet George Henein and art critics such as the Cairo-based Lebanese Aimé Azar and the Belgian Count d’Arschot who discovered his work at the Egypte-France exhibition at the Pavillon de Marsan in Paris in 1949. Rafi received a scholarship from the Egyptian government to pursue doctoral studies in art history at the Sorbonne and left for Paris in 1954, where he also joined the studio of André Lhote in 1958. His studies were interrupted in 1964 when he was invited by the president of independent Algeria, Ahmed Ben Bella, to become the Fine Arts Adviser in the Department of Cultural Affairs of the Algerian Ministry of National Education. His time there was both prosperous with significant positions held and critically acclaimed exhibitions, and tumultuous as he was incarcerated after the coup d’état of 1965. Back in Paris in 1968, an ailing Rafi lived a quiet life where he continued to paint, exhibit and write until his death in 2004. Text by Mehri Khalil