Authority representation as a cultural discourse
Dr. Amer Bitar
In this article, I analyze the representation of authority by visual artists, the interpretation of authority by the target audiences for these artists’ work, and the effect of national culture on the representation and interpretation of authority. To explore authoritarians’ use of visual art to impose disciplinary power and control the minds of others, I assess the representation of authority with reference to Geert Hofstede’s dimensions of national culture. I also draw on Foucault’s arguments that the human subject and social practices are products of historical discourses communicated through a coding system rooted in national culture. Finally, as a theoretical framework, I draw on visual culture studies and the power of the “gaze” to highlight the use of visual representative art as a powerful instrument for controlling minds and creating docile bodies.
Keywords: authority, aesthetic leadership, images, visual art, propaganda, national culture, visual genealogy, Hofstede, Foucault
In this article, I consider the expression of authority by visual artists, the interpretation of such expression by those over whom authority is exerted, and the role of national culture in the presentation and interpretation of authority. My first step is to define and explain the concepts of culture and visual art to authority as reflected in the social, political, and historical contexts in which art is produced. Authoritarians throughout history have used the visual arts to project power. The cultural context is a crucial aspect of the application of visual arts in exercising disciplinary power for the collective programming of minds (Hofstede et al., 2010).
To establish this context, I present examples of totalitarian regimes from various parts of the world during the previous century. Taken together, these examples suggest an explanation for the use of power to create docile bodies and control minds applicable to various cultural contexts. Most of the research on these issues has focused on the Western world. This paper expands the scope of the inquiry by looking at the use of visual art representing authoritarian figures in Western and non-Western countries. Thus, after discussing the key concepts of culture, visual art, authority, power, and discourse, the paper’s core is an analysis of five paintings of and for authoritarians who were particularly successful in controlling their countries and representing a range of national cultures.
Edward Tylor (1871), a pioneer in cultural anthropology, defined culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”. (p.1) In the next century, Claude Lévi-Strauss defined culture more narrowly as the set of shared symbolic systems that shape human behavior and thought (Lévi-Strauss, 1971, 1996). Other scholars have offered more figurative definitions, such as Peter Brooker (2003), for whom culture is ” a complex and still open history, which in itself expresses the complexity of general human history” (p. 67). Raymond Williams (2014), on the other hand, resignedly described culture as one of the most complex words in the English language.
The meaning of culture has been difficult to pin down and has changed over time. Thus, the earlier focus on fine art and aesthetics, in particular, literature, art, and music, considered, in Matthew Arnold’s (2006) famous words, the “best which has been thought and said in the world” has given away to the notion of culture as an “active cultivation of the mind . . . a whole social order” (Williams, 1981). Modern ideas of culture are based on ‘anthropologists’ efforts to classify and decode the symbols that the members of a given society use to express group identity in media such as popular music, art, literature, and print and contexts ranging from sports, food, and transportation to relationships and kinship.
Sturken and Cartwright (2018) attributed the production of culture to complex networks of making, watching, talking, gesturing, looking, and acting through which members of a society or group negotiate meaning. In these networks of exchange, images and media texts are among the objects that actively draw the attention of audiences or viewers and encourage individuals to feel or speak in particular ways. Hall (1997) similarly viewed culture as
concerned with the production and exchange of meanings—the “giving and taking of meaning”—between the members of a society or group. Thus culture depends on its participant interpreting meaningfully what is around them and making sense of the world in broadly similar ways. (p. 2)
Hofstede et al. (2010) posed a more concise definition for culture as “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from others” (p. 6). They argued that culture resides in the individuals who share it, serving to shape their perceptions and thoughts about the world and actions within it as they learn and transmit it across the generations. Hofstede’s research generally has been directed at constructing a practical system for identifying and measuring cultural differences at the country level based on a large dataset of survey responses from IBM employees. This approach provides a framework for identifying cultural variation among nations. I extend it here to a comparison of the visual arts associated with authoritarian figures in five countries that differ greatly in cultural values and norms.
Visual art involves using various media types for artistic and expressive purposes, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and photography. The study of visual art takes into account the form, content, historical and cultural context, and interpretation of specific works. Within a society, the visual culture includes the visible artifacts the community members create and by which they are shaped (Bitar, 2020). By definition, visual representations are non-verbal and perceptible through the sense of vision. They serve to convey information, entertain, and express emotion. As a form of human expression that goes back tens of thousands of years, images have had and continue to have a strong impact on the development of the human mind. Thanks to the digital revolution and technological advances, creating and sharing visual art is now easier and more accessible to more people than ever before.
Authority, Power, and Discourse
In general, authority can be defined as the exercise of legitimate power by a person or group over another person or group. Thus, power and legitimacy are the two main components in conceptualizing authority from a social perspective. Within the context of the present study, authority is a political and juridical form of social relations. Notably, these latter terms associate authority and power with notions of masculinity and patriarchy. For Foucault, power is a form of energy that permeates every society as “the moving substrate of force relations, which by virtue of their inequality constantly engender states of power” (cited in Taylor, 2011, p. 21). Hence, every social relationship involves a power imbalance, and the exercise of power creates resistance in various forms of outputs, in particular, new knowledge and truths (Foucault, 1977). From this perspective, visual artwork depicting an authoritarian figure is a power tool.
My approach is based on the insight that any version of reality is a socially constructed discourse articulated through systems of symbols, in this case, images, though I acknowledge that “discourse” can have various connotations regarding spoken and written language (Bitar, 2020; Hardy et al., 2000). So, to be more specific, the discursive nature of reality in a given society is reflected in the nature of the subject, which may be an active or passive agent. Foucault conceived of the subject as active, with the capacity both to exert and to receive influence, whereas Taylor (2011) conceived of it as passive, consisting of a “substance” that is affected by other agents or forces but cannot have an impact on them. My conception is closer to that of Foucault (1972), specifically, that individuals remain free and active agents in their responses to media use by authoritarians, however great the capacity of the latter to control minds. Moreover, that discourse remains embedded in the historical context.
Discourse is central to producing, disseminating, and preserving societal knowledge through power relations. Foucault (2009) argued that discourse shapes individuals’ perception of the world and their place within it, encompassing not just language but also the practices, institutions, and technologies that shape the understanding of a topic and responses to it by the members of society, influencing the production and dissemination of knowledge and cultural values. Power relations play a crucial role in shaping discourse, for “Power is a relationship, it is not a thing” (p. 11).
Since the primary goal of my research is to understand the rationale behind the deployment of symbols of power and their interpretation by individuals in accordance with their national cultures, I use the visual genealogy method (Schroeder & Zwick, 2004). Culture plays a central role in mediating the understanding of symbols of power, in that behaviors, attitudes, rituals, and beliefs, and all cultural and social interactions, exist within a complicated social framework made up of individuals who share a common understanding and application of a symbolic system as a result of mind-programming (Bitar, 2020; St. Clair, 1982). Observing and interpreting the various levels of culture through the representation of authority and interactions with these visual art tools allows for decoding the frames of meanings and perspectives on the reality of the social context in which the art is embedded.
The focus of this paper is on the visual representations of authority used by 20th-century totalitarian figures to control the populations that they ruled in five countries. I explore and offer answers to three related questions:
- How do totalitarian regimes represent authority?
- What is the effect of national culture on the construction and representation of images by authoritarian figures?
- What is the effect of national culture on ‘viewers’ perceptions and interpretations of visual representations of authority?
I use Foucault’s analytical framework of genealogy from a historical perspective, treating each visual work I discuss as a visual discourse. The following discussion of genealogy in relation to images serves to clarify my use of this framework.
Genealogy and Images
The place of genealogy in modern philosophy traces back to Friedrich Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals, which critiqued traditional moral values and framed them as historical and cultural phenomena. For Nietzsche (1913), genealogy served as a method to trace and deconstruct the historical development of such moral concepts as good and evil and show their use to maintain power relations in social systems. The method has to be used to examine the roles of values and ideas in historical events and trace the origins of specific discourses and the power relations that produced them. Foucault (2009) developed the concept of genealogy, defining its practitioner as “a diagnostician who examines the relations between power, knowledge and the body in modern society” (p.10), highlighting the fact that institutions and ideas are products of the specific relations between knowledge and power. Similarly, in describing his method, Kritzman (1988) explained, “I set out from a problem expressed in the terms current today and I try to work out its genealogy. Genealogy means that I begin my analysis from a question posed in the present” (p. 262).
Schroeder and Zwick (2004) contributed to the study of genealogy by coining the term “visual genealogy,” defined as “an excavation of representational practices, perceptual processes, and cultural codes”(p. 29). Guthey and Jackson (2008) contributed to the concept a practical framework for the use of visual genealogy to analyze images on three levels that they labeled frame, gaze, and period eye. “Frame” refers to that which falls within the edges of a visual work, in other words, the content that viewers see. “Gaze” refers to viewers’ deep consideration of an image and effort to construct meaning from it in a kind of dialogue with it, in which process power plays a key role concerning their social and cultural backgrounds and emotions. The dialogue is between an active subject, the viewer, and the passive object, the painting (Bitar, 2020). “Period eye” involves analyzing a work of visual art in its historical, cultural, and social context and thus represents the influence that the viewer receives from viewing it at a certain point in time (Baxandall, 1988; Guthey & Jackson, 2008).
The visual genealogy framework I used to analyze the five authoritarian paintings is the product of these ‘thinkers’ and ‘scholars’ theorization of the interactions between visual art and its audiences.
The five 20th-century authoritarians I selected for the study had a tremendous impact on the people they ruled and the wider world. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, Mao Zedong, and Gamal Abdel Nasser represent a range of countries and cultures, some Western and some not. The sample is not large, but I suggest it is sufficient to provide the basis for a meaningful assessment of the role of national culture in shaping the reception of authoritarian imagery. The paintings analyzed here were official propaganda designed to persuade their audiences of the ‘leaders’ effectiveness. Each creates a kind of heroic emotional narrative that encourages viewers to embrace an authoritarian political cause (Rose, 2012).
Figure 1 represents an official portrait of Adolf Hitler painted in 1937 by Heinrich Knirr (1862-1944), an Austrian-born German artist known for landscapes, still lifes, and portraits and the only artist known to have painted Hitler from life. His work depicts the Führer in a single-breasted brown jacket, black trousers, white shirt, and khaki-colored tie. The black Nazi cross badge hangs from his left pocket, and a round black Nazi insignia on the standard red and white NSDAP band encircles his left arm. He leans on a walking stick with his right hand without bending his body while his left-hand rests on his hip. His stance shows him confident and ready to act, and his piercing eyes gaze proudly and directly into the eyes of viewers of the painting. The background landscape shows a cloudy grey sky over a forest, hill, and river suggestive of the Bavarian Alps with echoes of Renaissance art.
The obvious and dominant iconography of Hitler’s leadership in this visual work is typical of the formal state portraits of authoritarians. The impression is of a mythical hero who has come from the past to save the nation. The shaping of Hitler’s image was in large part the work of Josef Goebbels, his minister of propaganda, who proved effective in constructing such images that depict the dictator as a kind of messiah figure with the power to unite and control the masses through a combination nationalistic, political, and religious rhetoric.
Figure 1. Heinrich Knirr, Portrait of Adolf Hitler, 1937, oil on canvas (127.2 x 93.5 cm). Copyright Imperial War Museum, London.
Figure 2 shows The Great Oath, painted in 1949 by Fyodor Reshetnikov (1906-1988), a prominent Soviet artist and a leading exponent of the socialist realism art movement. The work is one of the earliest representations of Joseph Stalin in visual art. It depicts him during the Second Soviet Congress held at the Bolshoi Theatre in January 1924, when the Soviet leader delivered a speech eulogizing Lenin that gives the painting work name. The painter emphasizes Stalin’s status in the Soviet hierarchy and his role as Lenin’s heir, the new vozhd. Stalin wears a simple collared smock, his left hand positioned on his heart and his right on some papers and a book from beneath which the red Soviet flag drapes down from the right, showing him to be the protector of the flag and communist doctrine. He stands against the majestic background of the Bolshoi Theater like a figure from a historical novel.
As he delivers his speech, Stalin gazes out over his audience, his enormous presence dwarfing the mass of onlookers, who pay rapt attention to him as if to a hero from Russian mythology. The triumphant red and gold colors against the backdrop of the crowd convey ‘Stalin’s uniqueness and monumental greatness. His towering figure is bathed in golden shafts of light from the frame as if from the heavens illuminating his vigorous face. Notably, he wears no symbols that are prominent in ‘Knirr’s painting of Hitler.
Figure 2. Fyodor Pavlovich Reshetnikov, The Great Oath, 1949, oil on canvas (235 x 175 cm). Copyright State Russian Museum.
Figure 3 shows a 1934 painting by Arthur Fischer (1872-1948) of Benito Mussolini, the leader of the National Fascist Party and a leading figure in the creation of fascism. The half-length portrait depicts the Italian leader in a khaki military uniform featuring a wide, black leather belt and wearing a black fez-like hat with the insignia of a golden eagle representing the National Fascist Party. Mussolini appears strong and bold, with his piercing eyes staring directly at the viewer and his head bent back in a proud and defiant look. The uniform evokes the image of an ancient Roman leader, in contemporary terms, Il Duce, as well as symbolizing the fascist ideals of force, power, and authority. In addition, the khaki-colored uniform is suggestive of colonial soldiers and, hence, the fascist regime’s expansionist ambitions.
Figure 3. Arthur Fischer, Portrait of Benito Mussolini, 1934, oil on canvas (81.9 x 61.5 cm). Copyright Imperial War Museum.
Figure 4 is a 1972 painting by Wu Yunhua (b. 1944) of Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong inspecting the Wushun Opencut Coal Mine in February 1958. This work was part of a propaganda campaign called the Great Leap Forward, intended to spur rapid growth in China’s industrial and agricultural productivity. In the painting, Mao wears the distinctive khaki-colored tunic suit named for him and serves as a symbol of proletarian unity topped by a long coat of the same color. His right hand on his hip expresses his confidence in his plans and readiness for action while he holds a cigarette in his left, and a content smile communicates a pleasant mood.
The painting expresses Mao’s pivotal position as the leader. Four smiling figures surround him in the foreground. The two closest to him are clad in military uniforms, the one on his left holding a furled red flag and wearing a red armband and the one on his right looking at him as if awaiting orders. Slightly behind them, a woman and a man in ‘miners’ garb gaze proudly at Mao. Finally, a mass of people, smiling in the background on the left, proceed toward the five central figures carrying a red flag. At the same time, on the right, in the distance, cranes and other heavy equipment dwarf other groups of workers receding into the horizon.
Figure 4. Wu Yunhua, Mao Inspects Wushun Opencut Coal Mine, 1972, oil on canvas
(425 x 185cm). Private collection.
Figure 5 is a 1957 painting by Hamed Ewais (1919-2011) titled Al Zaim w Ta’mim Al Canal (“the leader and the nationalization of the canal”) depicting Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. Nasser, as Al Zaim, occupies the center of the painting dressed in a Western-style navy-blue striped double-breasted suit with a white shirt and a red and burnt orange striped tie. He raises his left hand as he addresses a mass of people who appear much smaller than him and are represented only by partial views of their faces. At the top right, the stern of a cargo ship on blue water is visible, representing the Suez Canal. Nasser appears charismatic and vigorous, his disproportionate size and position in the painting indicating his authority over the mass of smaller figures, who, small and submissive, gaze up at him as if he were a combination of matinee idol and protective patriarch.
Figure 5. Hamed Ewais, Al Zaim w Ta’mim Al Canal, 1957, oil on canvas (109.5 x 134.5 cm). Private collection.
In technical terms, the style of all five examples of visual art blends idealism and realism. As it was deployed in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, and Nasser’s Egypt, this blend was well-suited to the portrayal of the autocratic leaders as a protector working to revive his nation. It is also consistent with the literal terms used to describe most of these men (führer, duce, vozhd, zaim). In Mussolini’s case, the imagery harkens back to the glories of the Roman Empire. In communist Russia and China, art reinforces socialist values and associates the messianic leader with the betterment of the lives of the working class. Of course, however enthusiastic the artists were about the leaders they depicted, their work was carried out according to the dictates of the regimes they served and subject to censorship, as is the case for artists in all totalitarian countries.
I mentioned earlier the power of images to initiate dialogue with viewers and the importance of their historical and social contexts for decoding them and assessing their impact on their target audiences. The paintings of Hitler and Mussolini shown in Figures 1 and 3 share the context of the European fascist movement of the first half of the 20th century, glorifying authoritarian regimes led by a single party and charismatic leader with aggressive expansionist policies who achieved and maintained power through the suppression of political opponents and espousing and racist and nationalist ideologies promoted through state-controlled media. Until World War II ended their power, these regimes maintained their grip by promoting cults of personality. From a stylistic standpoint, both regimes condemned modern art as a danger to traditional values and persecuted modernist artists and intellectuals. In Nazi Germany, the target was entartete Kunst, “degenerate art”, the creators and advocates of which were banished, imprisoned, or executed and their works seized and destroyed.
The images of Stalin, Mao, and Nasser shown in Figures 2, 4, and 5 were painted after World War II and reflect that conflict’s dramatic historical and social impact on the rest of the century. These works were part of government propaganda campaigns that used social realist art to condemn the West and capitalism as imperialistic and promote the transformative potential of communist and socialist values. Unlike the lone figures of the European dictators, these images include representations of ordinary people and show concern about improving their lives through political and social change. To be sure, the leaders tower over their followers, suggesting their power both to protect and to control, for the objective of the art was to rally support for these leaders and their regimes. Thus, the ordinary people surround the leader with rapt attention as he makes a gesture (though only Nasser is shown in the act of speaking). These works of visual art create the impression that the populations ruled by these authoritarians fully support them and are dedicated to their nation-building vision. Put less generously, the upward gaze in each case signals loyalty and submissiveness to the charismatic leader.
Overall, these five works of visual art, despite their distinct historical and social contexts, share five key characteristics. In the first place, their purpose is to communicate and normalize the leader’s legitimacy to viewers, which some of the paintings do by referencing a historical discourse rooted in a quasi-mythical past and others by promoting ideological goals and reinforcing dogmas (Foucault, 1977, 1979). Second, they emphasize the power that the leaders claim by making them the focus of the ‘viewers’ attention and the charismatic nature of their absolute authority; notably, the post-war works also include symbols—the theater, machinery, a ship—that point to the ‘leaders’ practical competence. Third, the artists pay particular attention to the ‘leaders’ gazes, which are directed either toward the external viewers (Figures 1 and 3) or toward the other figures represented in the painting (Figures 2, 4, and 5) to showcase their humanity as well as their dominance. Fourth, each leader is shown in uniform, further reinforcing their ability to control others, enforce unity, and deliver discipline. Lastly, each image projects masculinity, notions of gender being central to the exercise of power, which, in human history, seems only rarely to have been the prerogative of female leaders. The male gaze projects a sense of paternal surveillance and normalizes the authoritarian impulse by rooting it in power exercised by the father in the traditional gendered household. For the transformation of the leader from a mere mortal to a divine superman, each of these artworks seems to assume the appropriate vessel is the male body.
The Period Eye
Twentieth-century totalitarian regimes, including those based on fascism and socialism, followed a long tradition of utilizing art as a means of control when rendering populations submissive and, to return to Foucault’s phrase, creating docile bodies. The differing historical, social, and political contexts, though, shaped the particular forms that these propaganda efforts took. In Germany and Italy, with their links to Europe’s imperial and colonial past, the leaders claimed to revive traditional values through, among other things, condemning modern art and adapting Greek and Roman symbols and found receptive audiences in populations that had lost out in the new order that emerged after World War I. In Russia, China, and Egypt, on the other hand, a focus on constructing a new nation and national identity made the regimes more receptive to modernism, at least in the form of industrialism, even as they rejected Western domination of the order that emerged after World War II. As a result, the construction of meaning and use of symbols in art and its interpretation by the public took a distinct form in these post-war nations. However, the universal authoritarian objective remained of controlling minds.
Leadership as a Cultural Discourse
It is no surprise that the national culture profoundly impacts the nature of leadership in many, if not all, countries. Therefore, to conclude my analysis, I considered the variation in the deployment of symbols of leadership symbols across the cultural contexts represented by the five paintings using as a framework the six cultural dimensions distinguished by Hofstede et al. (2010) and the seven cultural mental images identified by Wursten (2019). Through this analysis, I identified four distinct cultural images represented in the paintings, specifically, the depiction of 1) Germany as a well-oiled machine, 2) Italy as a solar system, 3) Egypt and Russia as a pyramid, and 4) China as a family.
- Well-oiled machine. The defining traits of a well-oiled machine culture include limited acceptance of hierarchy, a strong sense of individualism, a strongly masculine orientation, and a strong tendency to avoid uncertainty. Figure 1 illustrates many of these traits through the symbols associated with the uniform, which represents rules and discipline and a preference for strong uncertainty avoidance; insignias, which represent progress and recognition as well as masculinity; and other attire that suggests equality and a low power distance. Conversely, the absence of symbols representing individualism reflects the incompatibility of National Socialism with the traditional German sense of individualism, a fact that may have contributed to the relatively short lifespan of the Third Reich.
- Solar system. The defining traits of a solar system culture include high power distance, a strong sense of individualism, and a strong uncertainty avoidance. These traits are evident in Figure 3, particularly the depiction of Mussolini in military gear, which symbolizes hierarchy and high power distance and the prioritization of discipline and strong uncertainty avoidance.
- The defining traits of pyramid cultures, exemplified here by Egypt and Russia, are collectivism, high power distance, and, once more, a strong tendency to uncertainty avoidance. Thus, as discussed in Figures 2 and 5, the masses throng around their towering leaders, looking up at them reverently in a manner that well symbolizes a high power distance. Also, in these visual artworks, the government’s dominant practical role in managing the economic system is represented by the association of the leader with modern industry (i.e., shipping in Egypt) or with a pliant assembly of powerful subordinates (i.e., the admiring Russian dignitaries and military men at the Bolshoi). Finally, the leader who protects his loyal and adoring subjects is a conceptualization of political power common in highly collective societies.
- The defining characteristics of family cultures are collectivism, high power distance, and low uncertainty avoidance. Thus, in Figure 5, the loyal followers surrounding Mao gaze at him with childlike wonder as if at a beneficent father. The conceptualization of society as a family or household is likewise a common feature of collective societies. In this case, Mao is atop the hierarchy, inspecting the work of his beaming followers. His smiles and postures reinforce the sense that an enormous power distance separates the leader from the masses, even in the socialist ‘workers’ paradise. The figures’ relaxed and contented looks are also suggestive of the rewards of low uncertainty avoidance.
Accordingly, to the extent that leadership is a cultural discourse, it is a social phenomenon. As such, leadership is shaped by culture and the historical and social context in which it operates. Understanding leadership in these terms, I hope to have shown, helps to explain why leadership styles and approaches, despite their similarities, vary significantly across cultures along with the nature of their visual communication.
Whatever their merit as art, the five paintings discussed here served to construct, reinforce, and maintain the authority exercised by five especially powerful leaders of the 20th century. These objects were directed at the ‘leaders’ subjects in order to control their minds through exposure to an idealized representation of the power of the gaze. In creating these tools of power and means of communicating ideology, the painters did not seek, at least not primarily, to create aesthetically pleasing experiences for the target audiences who would view their work. From this perspective, Groys (1992) indeed asked the key question regarding the images created by professional artists for the purpose of controlling thought on a large scale: “Are we really dealing with art here?” (p. 7). The answer, in part, is that these artists worked within an aesthetic context that countless repressive regimes have found effective in their efforts to achieve hegemony and render the bodies of those they rule docile.
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 Führer, a German word meaning “leader” or “guide,” is a political title Hitler used (officially, der Führer und Reichskanzler, “the Leader and Chancellor of the Reich”).
 NSDAP is the acronym for Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.
 Vozhd, a Russian word meaning “leader” and used exclusively of Communist Party rulers, was Lenin’s and Stalin’s title, sometimes expanded to “Vozhd of the proletariat.”
 Fischer, a German portrait painter, studied in Paris, Rome, and Dresden and served as court portrait painter for Kaiser Wilhelm II.
 Duce, the Italian word for “leader,” was the political title of National Fascist Party leader Benito Mussolini.
 Wu’s work appears in the collections of the National Museum of Art in Beijing.
 Ewais was among the founders of Egyptian social realism and a leading figure in Egyptian revolutionary art generally.
 (Al) Zaim is an Arabic word meaning leader or chief that served as a political title for Nasser and, later, Hosni Mubarak.