Mark Dery on “Surrealism Beyond Borders” at the Met

Cultural critic Mark Dery wrote a brilliant article on the Surrealism Beyond Borders exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum. Mark describes the show as “groundbreaking”, one that “decolonizes the official histories of the movement, cutting the ribbons on the new Dreamlands and Luna Parks of the unconscious”.

The show introduces us to new names and brings previously unknown or marginalized bands to the forefront. These offshoots reinterpreted Surrealism in light of their cultural contexts and political situations, reusing its unstable mix of Marx and Freud as an improvised explosive device to challenge authorities and subvert social norms. Often, they did it in ways never imagined by the founders of the movement, in places far from the cafés of Montparnasse: Aleppo, Cairo, Cuba, Martinique, Haiti, Chicago, Tokyo, Shanghai, Seoul, Sydney, Nigeria, Lisbon , Bucharest, Mexico. City, and beyond. All dream policies are local.

“We accepted surrealism as a means, but not as an end; as an ally, not as a master”, recalled Léopold Senghor, Senegalese poet and co-founder of the anti-colonial movement Négritude, in 1960. A case in point is Wifredo Lam, an Afro-Cuban painter of African, Chinese and European origin who saw his work as “an act of decolonization”. From surrealism, Lam derived the thought-provoking idea that he “could act like a Trojan horse that spewed mind-bending images with the power to startle, to disrupt the dreams of exploiters.”

As you weave through the maze of galleries, you will come across Turkish surrealists steeped in Sufism, the “scientific surrealism” of a Japan upset by the age of machines, a Filipino artist who has achieved the improbable feat of reconciling his Catholicism ( anathema to party-line surrealists) with psychoanalysis, and the Brazilian movement Antropofagia (“anthropophagy”).

Antropofagia was dedicated to the proposition that it was time to cannibalize the cannibals – the colonizers, that is, and even the Parisian surrealists who exoticized popular cultures and indigenous peoples as access points to the collective unconscious, antidotes to the straitjacket rationalism and bourgeois conformism of modern Europe. “The cannibalism attributed to the indigenous population of the country served as a model for [Brazilian] modernists,” writes Zita Cristina Nunes in her catalog essay on the movement. “Foreign influences would no longer be copied but digested as a prerequisite for a new independent nation.”

Read more on Hyperallergic.

Image: Screenshot from Met video

Leave a Comment