The movement arose shortly after World War I and some painters processed trauma by wanting to escape from reality. The German painter Max Ernst (1891-1976) and the French poet Paul Éluard (1895-1952), for example, had themselves been in the trenches (as enemies, they became friends after the war); Breton and the French poet Louis Aragon had cared for traumatized soldiers. That escape from reality could take place in different ways. Tate clearly shows how this was attempted.
In Europe, there were two groups of artists: one wanted to take reality out of context, the so-called juxtaposition, to create a visual contrast. Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) did this, for example, by placing a bicycle wheel on a stool, which was more of a joke. The lobster on Dalí’s apparatus can be compared to the announcement by René Magritte (1898-1967) with a pipe that this is not a pipe. The second group of artists went more for the symbols that were primarily to shape the subconscious.
All in all, the surrealists preferred an escape into the subconscious, where automatic creation is a kind of improvisational art that also existed in jazz, while the other movement wanted to capture that subconscious in charged images. Everything was possible as long as it was not rational. Dalí became the most famous in painting, Breton in letters.
In fact, there is a surrealist in every person, according to the poet Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918). He invented the term in 1917 when he wrote: “Man wanted to imitate walking and invented the wheel, whereas the wheel does not look like a leg at all. Without the person being aware of it, he was already a surrealist. ” Apollinaire is probably right, and that certainly explains why surrealism was picked up in so many countries around the world., including Egypt, where of course they also gave their manifesto a French title. Surrealism there, as in Europe, was a reaction to social development. How international surrealism was is the interesting thread in Surrealism beyond borders†
Also read: René Magritte has not only forged his own work
In both Europe and Egypt, it was partly about taking a stand against reactionary regimes and increasing conservatism. While the Egyptian government wanted to emphasize national unity by showing many images from antiquity and presenting the pharaoh as a symbol of strength and unity, the British photographer Ida Kar (1908-1974), who lived in Cairo at the time, responded with images in which she pharaohs as everyday objects. Others highlighted the violence, the (female) suffering caused by war, without immediately having a realistic representation.
European surrealism could not be equated with that of Egypt, according to Ramses Younan (1913-1966). So he started looking for a name for the Egyptian variant to arrive at the term ‘subjective realism’. He combined the European variants based on the symbolic method on the one hand (think: smelt clock) and on the other hand design automatically† It provided opportunities to create a mixture of Egyptian subconscious linked to the country’s symbols, nature and culture.
Against rationalism and militarism
The pursuit of independence and the liberation of authoritarian regimes can be seen over time in all countries, be it Syria, Haiti, Mexico or Japan. Although the movement stems from the same idea in all these countries, it is shaped in different ways. Revolution is a fundamental thing for everyone, whether it is political or for the mind. Surrealism was, certainly before World War II, an ideal response for artists to rising nationalism and until well after World War II also to colonialism.
In Europe and the United States, this was tantamount to holding back the oppressive rationalism that perpetuated conservative thinking and associated behavior. In Japan, in the 1930s, it was a way of condemning increasing militarism. European surrealism was seen as some escapism there, so they went in search of a ‘higher form of surrealism’ in Tokyo. Modern technology was given free rein, and science was then used to question it. This is without a doubt the reason why photography did well in Japan, which was a lot to try technically. The importance of art, conventions and cultural norms: they were all condemned.
Sexual morality was also covered extensively in magazines, some of which can be seen in the Tate, which featured surrealists from around the world.