MALAGA, Spain – A temporary exhibition at the Spain’s Museo Picasso in the southern port city of Malaga where the artist was born seeks to set the record straight about women’s role in the Surrealist movement, a century late.
Women experienced first-hand the early 20th-century movement, but the predominantly male artists who formed part of it only perceived them either as lovers or muses.
“We are Completely Free. Women Artists and Surrealism presents the work of a group of women artists who, from the 1920s onwards, became involved to a greater or lesser degree in Surrealism, a movement historically associated with men,” the museum said in a statement on Monday.
Jose Jimenez, the exhibition’s curator and departmental chair at Madrid’s Universidad Autonoma, said during a preview presentation that “Surrealism’s males saw women as wives, partners, lovers or in a more idealized vision, as the eternal child-woman, either as a muse or as inspiration.”
In any case, “Women were perceived as a passive object and denied a dimension of their true self, and that is how these eighteen women, with completely divergent artistic results, seem to have interwoven their work as if darned by a crimson stitch,” Jimenez added.
“Each one is herself and works differently driven by a desire to seek freedom and self-empowerment,” and their message is that nobody tells them “how they must be or what they must do,” according to the exhibition’s curator.
Eileen Agar, Claude Cahun, Leonora Carrington, Germaine Dulac, Leonor Fini, Valentine Hugo, Frida Kahlo, Dora Maar, Maruja Mallo, Lee Miller, Nadja, Meret Oppenheim, Kay Sage, Angeles Santos, Dorothea Tanning, Toyen, Remedios Varo and Unica Zürn are the artist who signed the 124 exhibited artworks on loan from some 30 international, public and private, collections.
Jimenez stressed that the term “surrealist women” must not be misused as there is a general tendency to erroneously use the term “surrealist” when something is either ridiculous or makes no sense, even if it really means “going further than reality,” or “seeking a more profound meaning of things.”
He added that “these women did not belong to the surrealist movement as such, some of them even refused to be pigeonholed as surrealists.”
This was the case of Leonora Carrington, who during a 1993 interview said that for a time she “identified with the surrealists” but saw how these men treated women as muses, “and that was humiliating.”
These women were in touch with or had entered a dialogue with surrealism so there is a surrealist footprint there, but they cannot be encased within the surrealist movement, Jimenez underscored.
The artistic director of the Museo Picasso, Jose Lebrero, said the exhibition wanted “to recover a memory, a largely unknown existence that many 20th-century art history chroniclers took the trouble to bury.”
The Moderna Museet of Estocolmo, the London Tate, the Paris Pompidou center, Madrid’s Reina Sofia center, Mexico’s Modern Art Museum or the Yale University Art Gallery are some of the institutions that have loaned their artworks for this exhibition, which will remain open to the public until Jan. 28, 2018.