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Women and Gender in the Surrealist Movement

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2029 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Surrealism refers to a kind of an abstract art. Surrealism is a product of Dada movement at the onset of the twentieth century. There several kinds of this form of art but the two distinct or major ones are the Veristic Surrealism and Automatism. Automatism is the kind of Surrealism, which received acceptance from the postwar art critics. Others consider surrealism a type of action painting. Artists do not consider surrealism a traditional form of art. Surrealism tends to deal with the inner thinking of the artist than the external visual reality. The Dada movement greatly influenced development surrealism as a twentieth century form art. The works of surrealists have elements of surprise and juxtapositions although the surrealists’ writers and artists consider their work as a means of expressing the philosophical nature of their movement .They also regard their work as artifacts. André’ Breton, the leader of the surrealist movement holds that Surrealism is a revolutionary movement. Surrealism emerged from the activities of Dada movement during the First World War. Surrealist movement had Paris as its most important center of operations. During the 1920s, surrealists spread their activities worldwide hence influencing literature, visual arts, music and film of many languages and countries, political thoughts and practices social theory and philosophy. The response by the women of the Surrealist movement to the refusal by their male counterparts to acknowledge the urgency and independence of women is quite evident in the artistic work of the women of surrealist movement. These women use animal imageries to resist and counter male control that is associated with the machine imagery. The use of wild animals as imageries expresses the essentially uncontrollable and wild nature of the female artists. Using nature and wild animals, the female surreal artists hope to counter the force of their male counterparts who prefer the use of controlling machines. Restricting the images and actions of women characterized surrealism especially the hesitation to acknowledge the female artists as independent. The male surrealists did not want to embrace the independent work of their female counterparts. The male surrealists expected the women to be their muse .the male surrealist artists regarded their female counterparts as a muse who is a child, insane or an erotic object and not one that represents an equally creative and capable artist. This woman forced to find ways of expressing their art beyond the confines of male expectations (Kelley, pgs 56).

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The women of surrealism were imaginative, bold and quite remarkable in different ways. These women were very active in surrealism even before the1924 in Paris appearance of the first manifesto of surrealism continues to illuminate and expand their artistic influence to date. This research paper highlights the quality, diversity, vitality and range of the female participants in the surrealist movement.

The surrealists acknowledge the contribution of women to the surrealist movement and at times celebrate them but the women do not receive such recognition outside the Surrealist movement for their significant contribution. For example, there are very few books within the United States of America devoted to the subject of women and surrealism .the books tend to capture the contribution of individuals whose paintings and photography work still stand out in the art market posthumously. There is serious neglect on the work and contribution of the surrealist women who expressed their work mostly through written work. This kind of neglect results in the misapprehension of the surrealist movement and the maintenance of old stereotypes. Generalizing Surrealism based on painting alone is quite misleading and is a perfect recipe for misrepresentation of the roles played by the women in the surreal movement. Surrealism as a movement has never been composed of painters only but also includes individuals engaged in other forms of art such as writing. There is glaring evidence of the many women poets, and thinkers who work is yet to receive proper recognition. These women contributed immensely to surrealism through ideas, which is a stimulus to imagination .Their ideas were like a liberating force and a source of inspiration to political, moral and poetic insurgency. The surrealist movement opposed de facto or overt segregation along ethnic, gender and political currents unlike many of the political and cultural currents of the twentieth century. The writings of women involved in surreal movement featured along the writings of their male counterparts. The writings by women for example featured during the issue of La Révolution surréaliste and their work formed part of the exhibitions by the surrealists. The surreal movement therefore benefitted greatly from the services of the women even more than some feminist organization due to their active participation in the movement.

Varo, 1955 .Figure 1(Kelley, pgs 56)

The challenge, success and achievements of the women of the Surrealism movement are of great importance not only to the movement but also to the genuine seekers of inspiration, knowledge and a better world. Some of the writing by the women of the Surrealist movement is striking due to their contemporary nature and the anticipation of the present day cultural and radical preoccupations. The texts written by the Surrealist movement women thirty to sixty five years ago surpass the present day debates. Nancy Cunard made practical attempts to express her anti-racism convictions by engaging in African Jazz and African art rather than join in “whiteness critique”. This way, Nancy made her contribution to the liberation of blacks. The “green thinking” and environmental consciousness that characterize the activities of the surreal movement is quite amazing. The environmental consciousness and desire to live harmoniously with the “wild” is something to cherish. It is equally important to realize that the women in the surreal movement stressed and emphasized the relevance of incorporating ecological concerns into the work of the movement. Wildlife, wilderness and nature form an integral part of the compelling and inspiring themes in the activities of the surreal women.

Leonora 1917 Figure 2(Gale, pgs 40).

Through their work, the women of surreal movement highlight the relation between man and other animals. The women in the surreal movement drew attention to the threats facing the endangered species and expressing their solidarity with the endangered species. Through their work, the women of surreal moment advocates for sustainable lifestyles and non-exploitation of the planet .The women championed for ecological consciousness and dreamt of the realization of a healthy planet. In the dance, plastic arts and films writings and poetry by the women of surreal movement one gets the feel of the natural world as depicted in the new lights. Their caution of a planet in peril is consistent with most of their works highlighting their plight for environmental conservation and protection of the natural world. It is important to note the environmental concerns raised by the women of the surreal movement are manifesting themselves in the present day in form of climate change, which threatens the existence of many plants, animals and the livelihood of humankind. Carrington, Agar, Senard, Rahon and many others represent eco-feminism and forerunners of ecology (Gale, pgs 40).

The women in the surrealist movement reoriented certain aspects of surrealism such the obsession with one’s sexuality to interrogating femininity and highlighting the interplay between sexuality and gender. The women of surrealist movement managed to rewrite the metaphor of the violent disjunction that characterized surrealism into a positive narration of visionary transformation. The necessity and importance of surrealism to the generation of artists before the world is very significant. This group included Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington, Toyen, Dorothea Tanning and Rammedios Varo.

Dorothea, 1984 Figure 3 (Dawn, pgs 30).

The contribution of women artists to furthering surrealism goals include liberating consciousness from the western thought full of polarities, from positivism and rationalism to the poetry of transformation, accident, ambiguity and the erotic metamorphosis are evident in their works. This group of women became the initial female adherents of this radical and vanguard movement of the twentieth century to explore sexuality as well as gender issues and to contribute towards the self-structured new narratives through visionary thinking. It is important to note that other women who joined the surrealist movement later after the year 1929-experienced marginalization by from their male counterparts. These women neither were of French decent nor were they present during the Surrealist movements formative years. This group of women who did not consider themselves contributed a lot to the activities and works of the surrealist movement but their participation and contribution is yet to earn recognition. They actively participated in the activities and the exhibitions of the surrealists. Their work continues to circulate in the public domain especially in venues such as the museums, art galleries and exhibitions. The diversity and scope of the work of the surrealist women is evident in their artistic work thus highlighting the various kinds of interactions they had with the surrealists. Leonor Fini did not consider herself as a surrealist despite her close friendship and ties with the surrealists. She is close to several members of surreal movement such as Leonora Garrington and Max Ernst. She also had her work formed part of surrealist exhibitions of the 1930’s. The work of Leonor Fini is rooted in the traditions of metaphysics ,symbolism ,German and Italian romanticism. Her work evolved from her earlier figurative paintings to highly evocative symbolic and personal figurations. The probing and complex portraits from her work reveal powerful draughtsman-ship. Her work veiled romanticism in an n evocative and rich manner. The work was often theatrical, characterized by a visual universe in which women and animals acted as carriers of psychic forces (Dawn, pgs 30).

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Leonora’s mother introduced Leonora to the Surrealist movement while she was still a young girl after her mother gave a book on surrealism. She later took up residence among the surrealists .Leonora produced paintings and writings anchored on the belief in transformations, spiritual and psychic journeys. Stella Snead had paintings that bore the imprint of Surrealism even though she joined the surrealists formally. This became evident during the 1936 surrealists exhibition in London. The work had the features synonymous with the work of the surrealists such the startling juxtapositions of real and unreal, logical and illogical, reality and dream, conscious and the unconscious. The younger generation of this group of artists includes Kaye Sage and Dorothea Tanning. She used the metallic colors and abstract forms to relate the paintings to hallucinatory mental landscapes associated with Yves Tanguy and the psychological ‘inscapes’ by Matta (Breton, pgs 67).

Tanning 1944,Figure 4 (Breton, pgs 67)

It is important to acknowledge that most of the women associated with the surrealist movement remain individual and diverse group. Their great contributions to the Surrealism by incorporating new perspective to the work of the surreal movement remain a legacy to behoove.

In conclusion, it is important to note that women played a critical role in development of all the genres of writings and arts. The women were instrumental in shaping the radical and critical outlook of surrealism. Thus, ignoring or overlooking the contribution of women to surrealism is a deception, which amounts to failing to acknowledge the best aspect of surrealist movement.


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