Suite Egyptienne

In 1849, Gustave Flaubert and his friend Maxime du Camp embarked on a journey through Egypt commissioned by the French Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce and the Académie des Instructions in Paris respectively. Emblem of the East to the French Bourgeoisie, both were asked to report on ‘the Orient’ which subsequently became central to Flaubert’s writings. A symbol of Flaubert’s romance with the East was his encounter with Kuchuk Hanem, the famed courtesan from Esna which unexpectedly imposed poetry and romance on the writer’s study of Egypt. Considered by Fouad Elkoury the subject of some of Flaubert’s most beautiful pages, she returns in his 'Suite Egyptienne'. Whilst in pursuit of Flaubert and Du Camp’s voyage, accompanied by his then wife, Nada, a subconscious overlap of narratives was created. 'Kuchuk Hanem, 1990', picturing Nada on a sofa playfully hiding her face behind a fan, is Fouad’s reading of Flaubert’s encounter. Nada became the protagonist in Fouad’s depiction of Egypt, transforming the 150-year-old Orientalist narrative into a personal fiction. Fouad’s work evokes a sense of nostalgia for the era of Flaubert’s romanticism, while also making us reminisce the Egypt of 1989. 'Suite Egyptienne' is an intimate series of photos, a sequence of over 80 images taken a quarter century ago, showing the ephemeral and layered qualities of history.