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How Did Female Surrealists Aim To Subvert The Male Gaze Within Surrealist Photography

1826 words - 8 pages

Surrealism was an artistic and literary movement dedicated to expressing the imagination as revealed in dreams. Aiming to free thought from the conscious control of reason, Surrealism became an incredibly male dominated group run by its founding member, André Breton. Breton was also the chief editor of La Révolution Surréaliste. This was a publication, which in 1929, circulated René Magritte’s I Do Not See The (Woman) Hidden In The Forest (figure 1). The collage consists of a group of photographs of Breton and other key surrealists such as Yves Tanguy, Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst. These figures with their eyes closed became representative of the surrealist’s fascination with accessing the unconscious through the dream like state. But it is the painting in the middle of the collage that forms the initial focus of our attention. The image presents a nude woman, who in modestly covering her breasts, appears to be concealing herself from the viewer. Anne Marsh suggests that Magritte’s collage is perhaps the most literal rendition of the sexually driven male gaze'. The combination of the icon of the closed eyes and the female nude gives us access to imagining an unrestrained and audacious scale of male fantasies and desires within Surrealism.

This reference to woman as the ‘Other’ is not a new concept within art history. Woman is seen as offering closer access to this unconscious state yearned for by man and she thus becomes an emblem of male desire, a force against the rational and repressive in society. As in Magritte’s picture, woman is represented as being poised at the centre of male dreams. She is illustrated as a projection or as an object of men’s own dreams of femininity. Unfortunately, the very nature of Surrealism and its principles meant that men could only ever see woman as a mediator. They limited her according to a set number of roles. She was envisioned as virgin and mother on one hand, as witch and whore on the other. Surrealism has thus been correctly described by Gavin Bower as a ‘men’s club, or rather a crisis of masculinity’. Attributing women to these roles ultimately means assimilating the female body with the passive role, as an object exclusively of the male gaze.
In no other field was this male gaze more strongly illustrated than through the medium of photography. According to Rosalind Krauss, ‘it was within the photographic rather than the pictorial code’ that Surrealism could be best understood. Because it permitted a more deeply rooted study of sexual doubts and inter-subjective fields, photography became one of the most compelling means for the Surrealists to delve into male desire. For Krauss, both woman and photograph become figures for each other's condition: ambivalent, blurred, indistinct and lacking in authority. The apparatus of the camera creates a rupture with the imaginary and in doing so, gives birth to a sort of hyperrealism. According to Jean Baudrillard, this enables the male gaze...

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