Updated: Jun 6
I dropped in at the ’Surrealism Beyond Borders’ exhibition at TATE Modern (London) last week. As many people, I’m familiar with Surrealism as a revolutionary cultural movement that ignited in Paris during the 1920’s. This exhibition however challenges many of our preconceptions about Surrealism and tracks its spread across the world. We learn how this cultural mindset inspired artists in Buenos Aires, Cairo, Lisbon, Mexico City, Prague, Seoul, Tokyo, America and many parts of Africa, uniting them through an ethos to challenge authority and imagine a new world through their work.
‘Cidade (a Rua)' by Brazilian artist Tarsila do Amaral, encapsulates the desire to overturn ideas of European domination in culture. The work reflects the artist’s reinterpretation of Surrealism from her uniquely Brazilian perspective.
In an untitled works by Mozambican painter and poet Malangatana Ngwenya, we see his experiences during the movement for independence from Portugal. Figures appear to merge in a united fight.
'Hip, Hip, Hoorah!’ by Netherlands born Karel Appel, was created to celebrate the artistic freedom achieved by the CoBrA movement (1948-1951), a group of artists in Copenhangen, Brussels and Amsterdam who sought to reinvigorate post-war culture. Appel took inspiration from children’s drawings believing that ‘the child in man is all that’s strongest, most receptive, most open and unpredictable’.
’Bird Lives’ by American Surrealist, Jazz Poet Ted Joans, also caught my attention. We learn the painting was inspired by Joans' impromptu memorial to Charlie Parker (nicknamed ‘Bird’) with whom he had shared an apartment. The piece reflects his commitment to linking the literary Beat movement of the post-war era centred in bohemian districts such as New York City's Greenwich Village, with Surrealism, Pan Africanism and Jazz culture.
‘Jazz is my religion, Surrealism is my point of view’, a quote from Jonas reflecting the fluid lifestyle adopted by the artist, as he moved through North and Central America, North and West Africa and Europe in rejection of the systematic racism experienced by black people in the US.
This intriguing exhibition which includes a highly eclectic mix of artistic formats, reminds us that there are no geographic boundaries to a mindset. In an era defined by territorial control, the exhibition showcases the different routes in to Surrealism enabled by shared ideals across artist networks.
Through the heterogeneous works we are transported to struggles against colonial expansionism, we observe the rejection of cultural dominance and the rebuttal of repression and constraints of nationality and language. We witness the quests for liberation and the fights for personal freedoms. It's a collective desire to cast off repression, but not a ‘cut and paste’ across international borders. Rather, the interpretations in their diversity, manifested through multiple themes, ideologies and media, reflect the very freedom of artistic expression that is at the core of their dreams'.
'Surrealism Beyond Borders is showing at the TATE Modern, London until 29 August 2022. For further information visit tate.org.uk
© Copyright Hazel Clarke 2022