The Forgotten Women of Surrealism: A Magical Animated Short Film

“The problem of women is the most marvelous and disturbing problem in the world” – André Breton, Manifeste du surréalisme 1929.

“I warn you, I refuse to be an object.” —Leonora Carrington

Model, writer and photographer Lee Miller had several lives. Discovered by Conde Bad in New York (when he took her out of circulation), she became a famous face of vogue in the 1920s, then launched her own photographic career, for which she is rightly celebrated: both for her work in the world of fashion and on the battlefields (and in Hitler’s bathtub!) during World War II. One of Miller’s accomplishments is often omitted from mentions of her life, the surreal work she created as an artist in the 1930s.

Hailed as a “legendary beauty”, writes the National Galleries of Scotland, Miller studied acting, dance and experimental theatre. “She first learned photography by being the subject of the most important fashion photographers of her time, including Nickolas Muray, Arnold Genthe and Edward Steichen.” Her apprenticeship and affair with Man Ray is, of course, well known. But rather than calling Miller an active participant in his art and his (she co-created the “solarization” process he used, for example), she is primarily referred to as his muse, lover, and son. favorite subject.

“Surrealism had a very high proportion of female members who were central to the movement, but who are often chosen as ‘muse of’ or ‘wife of’,” says Susanna Greeves, curator of a All-Female Surrealist Exhibition in South London. The marginalization of Surrealist women is not a historical oversight, many critics and scholars argue, but a central feature of the movement itself. When British surrealist Eileen Agar said in a 1990 interview, “At that time, men saw women simply as muses,” she was half too polite.

Despite their radical politics, the male surrealists perfected the transformation of women into disfigured objects. “While Dalí used the female figure in optical puzzles, Magritte painted pornified faces with breasts for eyes, and Ernst simply decapitated them,” writes Izabella Scott on artsy. Surrealist artist René Crevel—whom André Breton expelled from the movement for his homosexuality—wrote in 1934: “The Noble Mannequin is so perfect. She doesn’t always bother to take her head, arms and legs with her. Edgar Allan Poe’s love for “beautiful dead girls“degenerated into dismemberment.

Dalí employs no lyrical obfuscation in his reflections on the place of women in the movement. He called his contemporary Argentinian/Italian artist Leonor Fini (who never considered herself a surrealist), “better than most, perhaps”. Then he felt compelled to add, “but the talent is in the balls.”

While writing his thesis on surrealism in the 1970s at New York University, Gloria Feman Orenstein found that all the women had been completely excluded from the file. So she found them – stalking and becoming “close friends with many influential Surrealist women,” notes infinite time“including Leonora Carrington and Meret Elisabeth Oppeneim” (another Man Ray role model and the only surrealist of any gender with actual training and experience in psychoanalysis).

Through her research, Orenstein “became the academic voice of feminist surrealism”, reclaiming the work of artists who had always been part of the movement, but who had been shunned by male contemporaries, lovers and husbands who did not see them. not on an equal footing. terms. In the short film above, Gloria’s call, Los Angeles-based artist Cheri Gaulke, “illustrates Orenstein’s journey into surrealism with collage-like animations.” A quest that took her around the world, from Paris to Samiland, and which began in Mexico City, where she met the great Leonora Carrington.

See how Orenstein not only rediscovered the women of Surrealism, but helped rediscover the essential roots of Surrealism in Latin America, also erased by the art historical scholarship of his time. And learn more about the artists she’s befriended and brought to light at Art space and in Penelope Rosemont’s 1998 book, Surrealist Women: An International Anthology.

through Aeon

Related Content:

An introduction to surrealism: the great aesthetic ideas presented in three videos

Salvador Dalí goes surreal with 1950s America: watch his appearances on What’s My Line? (1952) and The Interview with Mike Wallace (1958)

David Lynch Presents The History of Surreal Film (1987)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, North Carolina. Follow him on @jdmagness

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