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)
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.