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Celebrating a century of surrealism

·2 mins

From a steam train shooting out of a fireplace to the nude back of a woman transformed into a violin, surrealist art still has the power to intrigue. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the movement, yet its influence still resonates with artists around the world.

Surrealism’s origins are in the collective trauma of World War I and the global flu epidemic of 1918. Convinced that the rational, masculine world was to blame for such horrors, the movement’s founder sought an ‘irrational’ alternative rooted in the world of the subconscious and dream states.

Dreamlike imagery and visual games are recurring features of surrealism, as are an underlying political sensibility and a desire to make the viewer question the world around them. The movement caught fire as it traversed geographical boundaries and decades, with artists from different countries and eras adapting its ideals to their own styles and preoccupations.

While surrealism had a reputation for misogyny, women were making and exhibiting art alongside male peers right from the start. Their work, however, was overlooked for many years by an art historical establishment which certainly was misogynistic. To redress the balance, recent exhibitions have highlighted the work of women artists who ’took advantage of the movement’s calls for freedom and explored it on their own terms.’

Both female and male contemporary artists are embracing surrealism today, drawn to its freedom in expressing themselves using dream-like visuals and indirect communication through absurdity and hidden meanings. Artists engage with classic surrealist tropes, presenting the familiar as unfamiliar, juxtaposing unrelated imagery, and using absurdity to critique political or social issues in new ways that speak to a younger generation.

Given the current political and social situation, there is much that contemporary artists want to speak about, and the ambiguous language of surrealism may be the perfect one in which to have those conversations.