Notes of News

Gift in mail today:  Angels of Anarchy: Women Artists and Surrealism


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“Stability in the market requires opinion diversity…A mix of men and women would create more diversity… I think if you had more women on the trading floors, you’d have a more stable situation.” –John Coates, Trader-turned-neuroscientist


AMY KING View All →

Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She co-edited with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edits the anthology series, Bettering American Poetry, and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.

7 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I found this excerpt from the review provocative: “Female surrealism feels like more of a co-operative endeavour. These women photograph and paint each other, repeatedly. They also work together. They are profoundly interested in the idea of gender, and how slippery a thing it is. Could Surrealism, from the evidence of this show, be construed as proto-feminist? The evidence here suggests that it could. Female surrealists seem to construe the unconscious as a social leveller. In our dreams, those discrete boundaries between the male and the female begin to break down, and even to merge into each other. So the unconscious can be used as a weapon against stereotyping.” Am very interested in what you think of the book. Title and cover photograph so moving. Thanks for this.

    • Thanks for this comment, Donna – going to give it some thought, esp as you see Surrealism construed as proto-feminist! Interesting. There are some essays in the beginning of the book to dive into, but most likely not today: feeling a little under the weather, so just quickly popping in and then back to the sofa. Thanks for this though~ and hopefully more soon!

    • When responding to these comments, keep in mind I haven’t looked at this particular anthology (though I will be tracking a copy down in the near future).

      I’d be careful to say that Surrealism was proto-feminist. In Breton’s original manifesto of surrealism, not a single woman appears on the list of friends and predecessors whom he considers part of the “movement.” The women involved typically played the role of the muse for this patriarchal literary movement. The women who did write, photograph, and paint and with each other tend to get left out of the history of the movements. A lot of them courted the movement, but not to the extent that they would self-apply the label of Surrealist to their work. Some even outright rejected it later in their lives (I’m thinking of Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington specifically).

      Even the Wikipedia page, which has a section on the feminist critique of Surrealism as male-dominated movement, doesn’t mention Varo or Carrington until it gets to the critique. Why wouldn’t these major Surrealist figures be in the main entry? They were both romantically and artistically involved with such “major” figures as Max Ernst and Benjamin Peret and were very much involved with the Surrealist activities in general.

      While I do agree that a lot of exploration of the concept of femininity took place during this time, a lot more fetishistic exploration took place. I’m thinking of Dali’s “Burning Giraffe” or Breton’s “Free Union.” When people think of Surrealism today, they’re not thinking of the poems, paintings, and photographs by the women, but the images of the women as depicted by those men.

      • Hi Shane,

        Yep, I think you need to check out the book before boiling it down – the editor, Patricia Allmer, seems to be acutely aware of the “known” surrealist movement. From her essay:

        “However, whilst surrealist thought radically challenged hierarchies, it often remained blind to its own gender politics, locked in a heterosexual, sometimes homophobic, patriarchal stance positioning and constructing women (and never men) as artists’ muses, femme-enfants, virgins, dolls and erotic objects.” And she goes on…

        I think the book is likely part-corrective (of those absent women artists), part critique – the end of her essay:

        “Aside from purely biographical explorations, Angels of Anarchy is an investigation into the ways in which women surrealists challenge patriarchy and how, through this, they allow surrealism to overcome its own blindness. Within the recognisable parameters of surrealist artworks, they extend the movement’s radical potential to subvert, question and overcome.”

  2. Michael Glover “The Independent’s” reviewer of the Manchester, UK exhibition, is the one who wrote, “Could Surrealism, from the evidence of this show, be construed as proto-feminist? The evidence here suggests that it could. ”

    I’m really much more interested in your take, Amy. Have always been puzzled by the appearance of Feminism in Surrealism but found (in a casual not scholarly sense) no way to get through the appearance. I do hope you get your Spring back very soon. It doesn’t last long.

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