Tranen van Eros

With Women’s Day around the corner, the exhibition Tranen van Eros at the Centraal Museum in Utrecht seems quite fitting. We took a look at the women who subverted surrealism over the years and how surrealism translates into the creations of some contemporary female artists today.

Tranen van Eros, at the Centraal Museum in Utrecht, was a time-travel through the centuries. Looking back at surrealism in relation to how the female body was projected as objects of desire and sometimes explicit fantasies. “I am never cruel to animals, but I would like to torture a beautiful woman, a beautiful woman who loves it. I will not hang an old maid on her hind legs. But a beautiful girl. Yes.” The Utrecht artist Joop Moesman (1909-1988) said it in conversation with the legendary Vrij Nederland interviewer Bibeb. His highly problematic view of women could be seen in his artwork, as they all take a passive victim role. Not only would he be seen as a disgrace today, with strong political movements arising, for instance, the #MeToo movement.

Art is soaked with imitations of the female body, explicitly the female nude. The director Bart Rutten was not afraid to put topics such as SM, fetishism, and sex at the forefront of the exhibition. Entering The Tears of Eros exhibition reading the sign that states “The exhibition contains explicit erotic artworks, possibly not suitable for young children.” Initially unsure of what I thought about yet another sexually charged expo centered around women I curiosity carried me forward. After pondering with these thoughts in mind as I intriguingly walked through the hallways of the Centraal Museum I came to realize artists have always been concerned about sexuality and what social commotion it might cause. Yes, rightly so, but later felt myself walking away more empowered to be a woman.

“…but later felt myself walking away more empowered to be a woman.”

Although the continuing debate and acceptance in society of the female body as a consumable object, the use of the female form when presented by women themselves, can still cause controversy. Names like Joop Moesman, the most important yet controversial Dutch surrealist, next to Dali, Magritte and Ernst who paved the way, but now it’s the turn of the women. This exhibition puts the female surrealists such as Claude Cahun, Leonora Carrington and Leonor Fini in their earned limelight. It is also fascinating to see how modern surrealism is depicted nowadays through women like Viviane Sassen and Gillian Wearing, and how this differs from the 19th century and earlier.

Surrealism originated around the 1920s which harvested an extremely different time politically, culturally, and socially than now. This exhibition takes a critical look at these grounds and puts the power back in the hands of the pioneering women who subverted surrealism. By looking at how artists like Vivianne Sassen and Sarah Lucas (among many more) depict their personal representation of effeminate beauty in their work. Surrealists constantly attracted controversy, but for all their anti-establishment thinking, they stayed strangely traditional in their views towards women’s bodies, and approach to gender. After taking in all the surrealistic beauty that day I reviewed females who paved the way then and now. It is also interesting to draw the connection between how surrealism was depicted in the then to what is shaped to today, and how personal experiences that carefully absorbed within the works of the women below.

Claude Cahun

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) was a female French surrealist, writer, and political activist but became best known as a photographer. Cahun’s photographic self-portraits present a breathtaking multi-colored fusion of mystery, enthusiasm, and soberness. Her work entails such deeply personal undertones which really bring forward her relentless self-exploration. Claude was constantly deconstructing her layers of identity and the ‘self’.

Leonora Carrington

Leonora Carrington (1917-2011), a British- born Mexican artist, surrealist painter, and novelist work is a strange and compelling story. Being one of my favorite artists to date, I was mostly excited to see her work up close and personal again. When I look at her work I instantly get lost in the mystery of it. It feels like there is a cryptic atmosphere around the corner. You never really know which side of the canvas she is on. The beastly creatures, distorted bodies, and eccentric ‘humans’ she illustrated were almost like extensions of her life and themes of transformation and identity she played with as an artist. Everything came from dreams she had interrupted into a canvas, rooting mainly from her childhood.  The concept of ‘female’ back then was ‘cute’ but derogatory, they did not seem to be taken seriously when it came to art. Leonora did not share these beliefs and her rebellious ambition undoubtedly shines through her magnificent creations.

Viviane Sassen

Viviane Sassan is an Amsterdam based artist. Her simple but meaningful work explores the body as a sculpture, an intriguing entity that can be molded and distorted, like abstractions of form, they take on different meanings and ideals when in front of the camera. Her idea of surrealism is introverted and reflective, it’s like putting one foot in the unconscious world, like a parallel universe she experienced as a child. The subjects in her work are symbolic and the camera is the catalyst for understanding the world and making connections with the outside world. Sassen lived in East Africa from the tender age of 2 years old. This time of her life deeply inspired the majority of her work to this day. Sassen’s creations embody a migration of history and culture, intertwined with the more contemporary urban culture derived from America and Europe.