Journal of Surrealism and the Americas (JSA)
The Journal of Surrealism and the Americas focuses on the subject of modern European and American intellectuals’ obsession with the “New World.” This obsession—the very heart of Surrealism—extended not only to North American sites, but also to Latin America, the Caribbean, and to the numerous indigenous cultures located there. The journal invites essays that examine aspects of the actual and fantasized travel of these European and American intellectuals throughout the Americas, and their creative response to indigenous art and culture, including their anthropological and collecting activities, and their interpretations of the various geographic, political, and cultural landscapes of the Americas. We furthermore intend to investigate the interventions / negotiations / repudiations of European/American or other Surrealisms, by indigenous as well as other artists, writers and filmmakers. Original publication is available at: Journal of Surrealism and the Americas
Photographer and war correspondent Lee Miller incongruously appeared bathing in Hitler’s bathtub in Vogue in 1945. Part of a series of articles and photographs Miller produced for Vogue during WWII, the photograph has recently been interpreted as Miller’s way to mark the Allied victory over the Nazis, registering her defiance and literal occupation of Hitler’s most personal of spaces. Laurie Monahan argues against such certainty, noting that the power of the images Miller produces from this period lies not in victory or defeat but in the absolutely disturbing contradictions that appear in the encounter. Present at the liberation of Dachau and subsequently lodging in Hitler’s Munich headquarters, Miller is forced to ask whether these traumas can be contained or managed through victory. Can we so easily condemn our enemies while assuring ourselves that we are entirely unlike them? Central to those assurances is the need to convince ourselves of the superiority of our values, our actions, and our ethics in the face of events that reveal death, fear, and the most sinister elements of human behavior – in short, to classify what constitutes the good and the bad. Miller’s images, with their sustained ambiguity, force us to ask these questions anew as we realize that even the terms of victory are not adequate for the purpose.
Mary Low and Juan Breá’s Red Spanish Notebook: The First Six Months of the Revolution and the Civil War (1937) narrates their experiences volunteering alongside Spanish and foreign volunteers in Spain in an effort to suppress the Francoist uprising and to transform the country’s social structures. Although their text has received little critical attention in examinations of Surrealism and international Spanish Civil War involvement, Red Spanish Notebook provides a unique and useful example of surrealist documentary photography. The book contains no actual photographs. However, Low periodically uses ekphrasis to undermine dominant notions of journalistic distance, especially in her discussions of Spain’s nascent women’s movement. By describing photographs of foreign and Spanish women on the front lines and the home front, and offering alternative interpretations of the images, Low illustrates the impossibility of objective reporting. In so doing, she brings political attention away from the war itself, and towards Spanish women’s concurrent struggle for equality. This essay examines Low’s use of ekphrasis to argue that she elevates and legitimizes Spanish feminism by reporting social revolution in the style of war journalism, while simultaneously constructing an ethics ofinternational collaboration and sympathy. Through their commentary on the perpetual slippages inherent in supposedly objective journalism and documentary photography, Low’s writings provide unique insight into surrealist feminism.
This essay reconsiders Remedios Varo's work within the context of her lifelong fascination with science as well as the broader epistemological and metaphysical questions driving the intellectual innovations of the 20th century. Varo's commercial illustration and late painting explicitly draw on the new physics, the hidden world of microbiology, the speculations of metaphysics, the world of engineering and mechanical design, as well as the intricate labor of the domestic sciences and crafts, as a way to explore the relationship between science and art on the one hand, and the old and the new on the other. In moving beyond the familiar rhetoric mystical, inspired, dream-like, esoteric that often accompanies an appreciation of Varo's work, this essay explores her interest in a range of scientific themes and intellectual ideas which were central to the Surrealist movement's interdiscplinary engagement.
André Breton’s discovery of the art of Frida Kahlo in Mexico in April 1938 guided the path his interests would take during and after World War II: towards the indigenous and mythical. His support guided Kahlo in turn as she soon enjoyed a solo show at the Julien Levy Gallery on East 57th Street in New York in November 1938. Involvement in major international shows followed: the ‘Mexique’ show at the Renou et Colle Gallery in Paris in 1939, the ‘Exposicion Internacional del Surrealismo’, at Ines Amor’s Galeria de Arte Mexicano in Mexico City in January 1940, the landmark ‘Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art’ exhibition at New York MOMA in 1940, and the ‘Exhibition by 31 Women’, at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of this Century Gallery in New York in 1943. Kahlo stood on the borderline of Mexico, New York and Paris, uniting all three cities in their avant-garde aspirations. She offered an intensely personal and proto feminist iconography at a time of immense political and cultural anxiety and recognised and reinforced the potential of the feminine as revolutionary force. She thus played a key role in Breton’s ambitions for Surrealism but also in the geography of modernism itself. This essay considers how Breton and Kahlo’s relationship went beyond that of the once colonised (Kahlo) and the enamoured European (Breton), and argues that her appeal and feminine potential was rooted in an avant-garde internationalism and geopolitical vision which is all too often overlooked. Herein lies the real significance of the “lost secret” she could reveal.
Jonathan Eburne's essay, "Leonora Carrington, Mexico, and the Culture of Death," studies Carrington's written work from the mid-1950s, when she collaborated with avant-garde groups in Mexico City, including the Poesía en Voz Alta theater group (1956-57) and the journal S.NOB (1962). In particular, it examines Carrington's adaptation of the contemporary Mexican interest in pre-Columbian cultures of death; Carrington's midcentury work, Eburne argues, develops this Mexican "culture of death" as both a response and a contribution to European existentialist and surrealist systems of ethics.
European Surrealists’ exile to the New World, mainly New York or Mexico City, during World War II or earlier, proved an enriching and liberating experience for several women involved. As artists they tended to adapt better to new surroundings, where they were appreciated and given individual exhibitions of their work, for example in New York by Peggy Guggenheim, Julien Lévy et al. (Europeans Isabelle Waldberg, Leonora Carrington and Jacqueline Lamba and Americans Dorothea Tanning and Kay Sage). In Mexico, Carrington, Remedios Varo and Alice Rahon had shows at Inez Amor’s gallery among others.
Most of these women had undergone severe traumas during or before the war and needed to express them in writing as well as through plastic art. Like their male counterparts, they usually produced interdsciplinary work, but unlike the men’s, most of their writing and much of their iconography was at least partly autobiographical. Another motivation for writing along with other creative drives, was the appreciation of new discoveries as they explored a new land: grandiose western panoramas and especially Amerindian, Mexican and Caribbean native cultures, rituals and art.
Most male Surrealists rushed back to Europe when the war was over, while many women chose to stay (Carrington, Varo, Rahon, Horna, Sage, Bourgeois), or returned later (Lamba, Waldberg).
This essay deals with the nomadism of fifteen European, American and Mexican women artist-writers before, during and after World War II and its effects on their work.
Women participated fully in what might be called the surrealist conversation, a philosophical exchange involving a process of defining, correcting, and redefining what surrealism stands for through texts and art. This special issue of the JSA devoted to women surrealists and the Americas demonstrates how scholars, too, participate actively in dialogue with one another, and have done so consistently since the landmark publications by Xavière Gauthier (1971) and Whitney Chadwick (1985) of comprehensive studies of women involved with the surrealist movement. This essay introduces the essays in the special issue.
This paper traces the shift into performative interactions by European scholars and artists as they sought or feigned interaction with the spirits and objects of Native American culture. I discuss the postwar artworks of Max Ernst, Joseph Beuys, and Steven Yazzie. I argue that each of these artists’ use of Native American objects goes beyond earlier surrealist appropriative and mimetic strategies. From a postcolonial position, these artworks address personal trauma as well as the collective trauma of colonialism. Aby Warburg’s late nineteenth-century travel to the American Southwest, and his resulting notion of an aesthetics of empathy, or of “mimesis through communion with/entering into the object,” becomes very relevant for Beuys’ work in particular. Furthermore these postwar artworks by Ernst, Beuys and Yazzie contain a comic element that invites laughter, a critical/therapeutic element that Pierre Clastres describes as a distinctly political act.