Africa in the Surrealist Imaginary: Photographs of Sculpture in Minotaure and Documents

Walden, Lauren (2021) Africa in the Surrealist Imaginary: Photographs of Sculpture in Minotaure and Documents. Visual Anthropology, 34 (3). pp. 185-213. ISSN 0894-9468

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The Surrealist journals Documents (1929–1930) and Minotaure (1933–1939) sought to overturn the eurocentric hegemony of art history, especially the notion that Greece had formed the original cradle of civilization. Due to close-knit linkages with anthropologists in these periodicals, the Surrealists’ understanding of indigenous art was far from superficial; nor was it limited to mere aesthetic borrowings, as presented in William Rubin’s controversial “Primitivism” exhibition of 1984. The diverse range of African sculptures in both French journals testify to a much wider influence upon Surrealist thought, often aligned with uneasy but core concepts of universality, freedom of the spirit, the occult, automatism and non-national limits. As such, the original use-value of sculptures within their indigenous African cultures will be interrogated beyond purely aesthetic concerns, rearticulated through the prism of core Surrealist ideas to delineate both genuine resonances and intentional deviations. Although the Surrealists attempted to attenuate the colonial legacy of Western art history, the movement seems to rest in a state of exception à propos the provenance of sculpture featured in their periodicals and personal collections. Indeed, Minotaure published Marcel Griaule’s Mission Dakar-Djibouti and its treasure-trove of looted African wares which would become the property of France. Ultimately, photomechanical reproduction of these sculptures did not satiate the colonial powers’ lust to possess, nor that of avant-garde collectors. The original, “auratic” object still reigned supreme, creating a troubled complicity between Surrealism and the ideology of colonialism that they vehemently protested against.

Item Type: Article
Identification Number:
7 March 2021Accepted
28 April 2021Published
Uncontrolled Keywords: Surrealism; African Art; Photography; Sculpture; Reproduction; Anti-Colonialism
Subjects: T500 African studies
W100 Fine Art
W900 Others in Creative Arts and Design
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Design and Media > Birmingham Institute of Creative Arts > Birmingham School of Art
Depositing User: Lauren Walden
Date Deposited: 28 Apr 2021 12:35
Last Modified: 28 Apr 2021 12:35

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