Surrealism in 1960s and 1970s Latin America

Paulina Caro Troncoso, University of Edinburgh,

‘But what is the story of all of the Americas if not the chronicle of the marvelous and the real?’, wrote Cuban author Alejo Carpentier in the preface of The Kingdom of This World ([New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux], 2017: [page: xx]). This rhetorical question firmly resonates when studying Surrealism in Latin America. Scholars have given significant attention to the idea of the marvellous in visual arts and literature to define the inventions and reinventions of Surrealism in the New World. However, we could also rethink the marvellous in relation to the utopian impulse and discourses that have shaped the history of Latin America, especially during the second half of the 20th century.

This session will explore Surrealist manifestations from the 1960s and 1970s, a period in the history of Latin America characterised by its socialist utopias. During these decades, multiple cultural exchanges between Latin American and European artists took place, revealing a great interest in Latin American revolutionary processes. How did the utopian discourses and interactions between artists inform Surrealist practice in Latin America and other contexts during this period? Do these encounters reveal a new understanding of the political and revolutionary scope of Surrealism in Latin America and Europe?

Speakers & Abstracts

Surrealist Utopias and the Cuban Revolution

Anne Foucault (Université Paris-Nanterre)

The recognition in 1964 of the Cuban Revolution by the Parisian Surrealists gathered around André Breton can be explained by the presence in its ranks of two artists born on the island (sculptor Agustín Cárdenas and painter Jorge Camacho), but also by what firstly appears to be a ‘revolution in the revolution’. At a time when the Western working class seemed to have abandoned its ‘revolutionary role’, and the ‘socialist democracies’ of the East showed no hope of real emancipation, the first years of the Castrist regime, promoting a resistance to North American imperialism and to Soviet authoritarianism, seemed to propose a third way, and soon became a leading symbol of the Third World revolutionary potentiality. Castro’s declared willingness to move away from Soviet methods, Guevara’s defence of a revolutionary internationalism, and the proclamations concerning the freedom of art convinced some of the Surrealists to accept the official invitation made by Wifredo Lam to join the Salón de Mayo organised in La Habana in July 1967. As shown by the debates the trip to Cuba generated later in the Parisian group, the Cuban Revolution prompted the Surrealists to define the way they could get involved in the anti-imperialist struggle, but also to revise their conception of revolution. Other echoes of the ‘Cuban issue’ can be found in the different interpretations the Parisian Surrealists had of Cárdenas’ and Camacho’s work and in the relationship these artists, especially Camacho, had with the Cuban Revolution and the revolutionary phenomenon in their own practices.

Paris Goes to Cuba: Surrealism, Third World solidarity and Black Power

Claire Howard (Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin)

This paper discusses the impact of the Paris Surrealists’ trip to Cuba in 1967 on the group’s political activism in its final years. Fidel Castro’s government invited the Surrealists to participate in a cultural Congress coinciding with the presentation of the Paris Salon de Mai in Havana. It was, however, the Surrealists’ encounter on the same trip with the revolutionary leaders at the first conference of the Organización Latinoamericana de Solidaridad (OLAS) that proved galvanic, engaging the Surrealist movement with struggles against imperialism and oppression worldwide. Leftist groups from 27 Latin American countries formed OLAS at the 1966 Tricontinental Conference to coordinate the struggle against US imperialism. From 31 July to 10 August, 1967, the OLAS conference gathered 150 delegates in Havana, including delegate of honour and Black Power leader Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture). Carmichael’s conceptualisation of the USA’s Black communities as internal colonies resonated with the anti-racist, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist ‘Tricontinentalism’ foundational to OLAS. After their return to Paris, the Surrealists’ exposure to Tricontinental philosophy at the OLAS conference was reflected in a marked shift in the level of political engagement apparent in their journal L’Archibras. There, the Cuban Revolution, anti-Soviet efforts in Czechoslovakia and Black Power sat side by side, often cross-referenced in articles addressing global struggles against repression. The Surrealists’ encounter with Carmichael and the Latin American revolutionaries of OLAS produced a transregional vision of resistance and anti-imperialism that would transform late Surrealist activities and production in pursuit of the movement’s fundamental aim: human liberation.

Towards a Definition of a Revolutionary Subject: Roberto Matta’s ‘La Guerrilla Interior’

Paulina Caro Troncoso (University of Edinburgh)

In the 1960s, the Cuban revolutionary government made several efforts to consolidate a cultural policy that would respond to its new context. The Cultural Congress of Havana that took place in January 1968, the year known as ‘The Year of the Heroic Guerrilla’, was an important event during which more than 400 intellectuals from 70 countries participated in a series of debates that aimed to address the social, political, economic and cultural concerns of underdeveloped countries. This event caught the attention of the Surrealists in France. Among the participants were Roberto Matta, Michael Leiris and Alain Jouffroy. Matta joined the commission of one of the sessions entitled ‘The Integral Formation of Man’ which aimed to ponder on the formation of a revolutionary subject, examining questions on the necessity of an integral and un-alienated subject that, as such, would contribute to and cooperate in the struggles against imperialism. In one of the working sessions, Matta delivered a speech titled ‘La Guerrilla Interior’ (‘The Inner Guerrilla’). Drawing on Surrealist ideas of the freedom of the mind and the exploration of the unconscious, Matta approached the topic of the integral subject from a perspective that merged ideas about the role of art and poetry for social change and the revolutionary potential of the imagination. This paper explores Matta’s participation in the Congress, revealing an important aspect of the artist’s political commitment in the 1960s which situates him as a cultural agent who expressed support for and solidarity with upheavals across the world.

Surrealism, Occult Rituals and Women Artist Networks in 1960–79 Latin America: Leonora Carrington’s visual and literary path to Mexico’s women’s liberation movement

Pauline Holzman (University of Oxford)

In a prospective paper for the Surrealism in 1960s and 1970s Latin America session, I wish to look at Leonora Carrington’s (1917–2011) visual and literary works produced in Mexico between 1960 and 1979. The British-born artist explored her own brand of Surrealism in Mexico, where she created space within the bounds of the European movement to expand its political scope. The period is of particular interest to the study of her practice as it articulates a collective female experience, as opposed to the individualistic focus of her earlier works, which carries political tenor.

I will argue that Carrington’s revolutionary impulse, expressed through Surrealist aesthetics, is born from an exchange between her cultural European background and her interactions with a close circle of friends, including Remedios Varo (1908–1963) and Kati Horna (1912–2000). I will further contend that she created a new Surrealist ‘social myth’, one that counters the gender dynamics of the global Surrealist movement.

Carrington’s interests in European occultism and ancient matriarchal cultures, paired with her female-formed network in Mexico, enabled her to articulate a socialist utopia advocating for female empowerment. I aim to prove that this politically charged utopian discourse, presents the Woman as a powerful Goddess involved in magic rituals within a circle of women and that its construction relied on, whilst simultaneously setting the stage for, a feminist sub-culture of women Surrealists in Mexico. Doing so, I will discuss how her socialist discourse, which was developed in Mexico, expanded the political scope of European Surrealism.









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