Ola Seif, "Van Leo: The Reluctant Surrealist"

Thursday, March 1, 2018 at 4:45pm

Goldwin Smith Hall, Kaufmann Auditorium
232 East Ave, Central Campus

Ola Seif sheds light on Armenian-Egyptian photographer Leon Boyadijian's (later “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 papers 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 cc729@cornell.edu as soon as possible.

Event Type

Lecture, Exhibition


Institute for Comparative Modernities (ICM)

Contact E-Mail


Contact Name

Catherine Clepper

Contact Phone



Ola Seif

Speaker Affiliation

American University in Cairo

Open To


Google Calendar iCal Outlook

Recent Activity