surinenglish

Neither muses nor models

A group of women looking at 'Tertulia' (1929) by Spanish artist Ángeles Santos (1911-2013), on loan from the Reina Sofía Art Museum, which is one of the 124 works in the temporary exhibition at the Picasso Museum in Malaga.
A group of women looking at 'Tertulia' (1929) by Spanish artist Ángeles Santos (1911-2013), on loan from the Reina Sofía Art Museum, which is one of the 124 works in the temporary exhibition at the Picasso Museum in Malaga. / Álvaro Cabrera
  • Extraordinary works by women who found surrealism an ally in fighting against a chauvinist society and battling to be themselves

  • The Picasso Museum pays tribute to them with a new temporary exhibition

Their lives were already scripted when they were born: they would be wives, lovers, muses or models. However, they were not prepared to accept the commands of a patriarchal, chauvinist society . They wanted to be free, to be themselves. Eighteen women who found surrealism an ally in this fight for liberation from a society which wanted them to be an object of desire and prohibited them from being thinkers. At the beginning of the 20th century, they were subjected to political and educational inequality, subordinated by a legal discrimination, marked by occupational segregation and open discrimination in the field of work. Simone de Beauvoir wrote that a free woman is completely the opposite of an easy woman, and these women decided to be difficult, to fly alone.

“Of all the revolutions in the 20th century, I believe the one by women is the most important. If you think of women's situation in Europe in 1927, what they were allowed to do, what they weren't allowed to do, the access they had to education or power, and what women represent now in society, that has without a doubt been a major revolution,” says José Lebrero, director of the Picasso Museum in Malaga (MPM), where on Monday an exhibition called 'We are completely free. Women artists and surrealism' opened. It is curated by José Jiménez, Professor of Aesthetics and Theory of Arts at the Autónoma University in Madrid and one of the country's top experts in the surrealist movement.

The display shows the work and the lives of 18 women who used this avant-garde movement to break taboos and confront the deep-rooted cultural prejudices they faced. Followers of the 'Surrealist Manifesto' which André Breton proclaimed in Paris in 1924, thei work springs from pure automatism, far from any mental control. They try to portray through abstract forms or symbolic figurations the images of the deepest reality of the human being, the subconscious and the world of dreams.

“The movement opens the door to enable what cannot be, to be; to cultural defiance, moral rebellion and an internal freedom which, in some way, brings these women together. Something about it calls them,” says José Lebrero.

“For the history of art, cubism is very important, but for the history of culture, surrealism is more so because it includes literature, film, art and lifestyles. It enables, you to say: I'm gay, I represent myself, I mask myself, I disguse myself . Why did Warhol like Dalí so much more than Picasso? Because Dali showed that you can be anything if you try. Unrepressed fantasy and imagination. Surrealism is a way of saying what you want.”

Eileen Agar, Claude Cahun, Leonora Carrington, Germaine Dulac, Leonor Fini, Valentine Hugo, Frida Kahlo, Dora Maar, Maruja Mallo, Lee Miller, Nadja (Leonora Delcourt), Meret Oppenheim, Kay Sage, Ángeles Santos, Dorothea Tanning, Toyen, Remedios Varo and Unica Zürn are the artists in this exhibition, which consists of 124 works and continues until January. Women whose lives were long or tragically short . Women who achieved recognition as artists and others who had to wait a long time.