Skip to main content
Voyage of Discovery

Women In Wonderland: Surreal Narratives

By 8th February 2021March 5th, 2021No Comments

Tales of Dissected Breasts, Rapunzel, and the Pearls

“You are trying to intellectualise something desperately and you are wasting your time”

Cit. Leonora Carrington  

In the realm of Surrealist art, women have been especially overshadowed and underrepresented. However, Surrealism – perhaps above all modernist movements – anticipated the second wave feminism of the 1960s. What makes this trailblazing movement so relevant nowadays is the acknowledgement and celebration of the subconscious and its forces, conveyed through a provocative, subversive, and whimsical language. Recurrent theories which positioned women as muses and fetishized their bodies are questioned by the incredible influence of these women, despite them working in a domain ruled by men. The idea of the nude body as a sexualised object dissolves in favour of a profoundly intimate dialogue between the artists and their art; the representation of the body, as part of this conversation, becomes violent, visceral, and even traumatic in reaction to the objectification the artists have suffered.

“A woman who was beautiful
one day removed her face
her head became smooth
blind and deaf
safe from the stares of mirrors
and from looks of love”.

By Alice Rahon Paalen

Through the lens of Surrealism we observe the resurgence of the woman as an artistic, political,  emotional, and adventurous soul. “These artists engage with Surrealism not just aesthetically, but as a philosophy” (Greeves) – a sort of revolution against the restraints of the mind; they overcome their inhibitions, freeing themselves from the chains of a society which traps them into fixed roles as objects of desire, wives, and ultimately mothers. Instead, they become subjects of desire, “Awake Dreamers”, activists and militants; they are unafraid to give voice to their personal underworlds. Whether playful, carnal, or monstrous, they sublimate and validate feelings, thoughts, and fears which are otherwise banned and repressed. This visual culture and narrative, with its haunting and dreamy new ways of seeing, influences contemporary, otherworldly, and occasionally uncanny filmography, photography, and art.

In recent years we have been witnessing the development of what has been described as ‘documentary’ and ‘social’ Surrealism which is rooted in reality – in historical, economic, and political systems. The previous lunar landscapes become more impersonal, but the chosen language is once more a medium for irony and sarcasm; it is corrosive, irresistible, and bewitching. Its vocabulary is made again of totemic and found objects; it is an ode to the everyday and its eccentric chaos. Today, like yesterday, the marginalisation women experience has given rise to a kind of nurturing ‘club’ where – through their relationships – women artists have interwoven a common visual prose which enables them to capture and express their true selves. They reshape their domestic roles, drawing a widely imaginative and poetic sense of domesticity full of magic, myth, and folklore. It is a mysterious and secret world where womanhood can be fully unfolded and the indecipherable can take place outside the gaze of men.

By Mariasanta Tedesco

Follow Mariasanta Tedesco’s Voyage of Discovery : Women In Wonderland: Surreal Narratives – Click on the buttons to navigate

  • MT 1 – Historical Heroine : Lee Miller
  • MT 2 – Historical Heroine : Dora Maar
  • MT 3 – Film : Underrepresented, Leonora Carrington – Britain’s Lost Surrealist
  • MT 4 – Article : Claude Cahun
  • MT 5 – Article : Maya Deren
  • MT 6 – Contemporary Heroine : Sarah Moon
  • MT 7 – Heroinic Histories : The Power of a Lone Woman
  • MT 8 – Heroinic Histories : Tara Way
  • MT 9 – Film Festival : Buttons, Books and Dorodangos – Mika Rottenberg, NoNoseKnows
  • MT 10 – Cabinet of Remedies : Responses to Kourtney
  • MT 11 – Books : Knit Club by Carolyn Drake
  • MT 12 – Recipes : Lee Miller – A Life with Food, Friends and Recipes by Ami Bouhasanne

Inspired by the UN Sustainable Goal #5 Gender Equality