Becoming Van Leo
Becoming Van Leo is the first international survey of work by the late Armenian Egyptian photographer known as Van Leo, a pseudonym of his own making. Born Levon Boyadjian to Armenian parents in Turkey in 1921, the artist moved to Egypt with his family as a child, eventually settling in Cairo. There he rose to prominence as one of the Arab world’s most celebrated studio photographers from the 1940s to the 1960s. The exhibition traces Van Leo’s career from his earliest encounters with the camera in the 1930s, in which he used friends and family as models, through his experiments in self-portraiture of the 1940s and 1950s, and onward to his studio work, which extended into the 1990s.
Van Leo is a complicated, compelling, transnational, intersectional figure; his is a diaspora story and a cosmopolitan story. Both the work and the life of the artist encapsulate a tremendous farrago of influences, times, textures, and instincts. There is perhaps no more important time than now to present this long-overdue retrospective of an artist whose work belies facile definitions of East and West and pushes the boundaries between art and craft.
Becoming Van Leo is organized by the Hammer Museum with the collaboration of the Rare Books and Special Collections Library at The American University in Cairo, which holds the Van Leo Collection. The exhibition is curated by Negar Azimi, independent curator.