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Overlooked female Surrealist artists from Eastern Europe are the focus of the London exhibition

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The world of Surrealism is often associated with the works of famous male artists such as Salvador DaliRené Magritte and Max Ernst.

However, an exhibition currently underway in London seeks to shed light on women’s unique and often overlooked contributions to the movement, particularly within the Eastern European avant-garde.

Entitled ‘I Saw the Other Side of the Sun with You’, the unprecedented exhibition showcases the work of many outstanding Surrealists from Poland, the former Czechoslovakia and the former Yugoslavia, tracing the development of Surrealism since the 1930s to its revival today .

According to Anke Kempkes, the curator, Eastern European women artists in the interwar period used Surrealism as a medium to develop innovative and radical views on gender issues and sexuality. The art form also provided an outlet for them to process trauma during World War II.

“The exhibition, which is a world first, showcases the unique Surrealist language developed by these pioneering female artists and their lasting impact on younger generations,” explains Kempkes.

“It underscores the transhistorical dimension of Surrealist language as a strong female lineage in Eastern European art history that remains relevant today,” she adds.

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What’s on display at the exhibition?

origin 1Portrait of Theodor Szczepański (1964) by Maria AntoZuzanna Janin archive and Lokal_30, Warsaw

The exhibition features a diverse range of over 50 different works, ranging from painting, drawing, illustration, sculpture and video, as well as an assortment of archival materials.

Pioneering artists such as Maria Anto, a Polish artist known for her psychologically charged architectural and urban structures, and the apocalyptic landscapes of Zofia Rydet, highlight the development of surrealism in the region.

The title of the exhibition, “I saw the other side of the sun with you”, is actually taken from an excerpt from a poem by Anto from 1975, which reflects his relationship with his daughter Zuzia.

The exhibition also showcases the work of other pioneering female artists such as Milena Pavlović-Barili (1909-1945), a Serbian painter and fashion illustrator whose works for American Vogue melded surreal iconography with high fashion in medieval and renaissance.

His retro-modernist “poetic infantilism” laid the foundation for the artistic style of Ljiljana Blazevska, a Serbian painter known for her post-surrealist expressions, whose works are also on display.

origin 1Hunting (2021) by Agata SłowakTomasz Żmigrodzki Collection and The Foksal Gallery Foundation
origin 1Doll (1936) by Milena Pavlović Barili Foundation Milena dom Gallery Milena Pavlović Barili
origin 1Untitled (1945) by Teresa Żarnower PIOTR TOMCZYK/MUSEUM OF ART

In addition to historical artists, the exhibition features contemporary female artists who carry on the legacy of dissident female voices in the art world.

One such artist is Agata Slowak, a Polish artist born in 1994, whose work focuses on themes related to gender and feminism, drawing inspiration from first-generation surrealist Lenore Fini.

Slowak’s art explores the role of ritual and magic as alternative forms of knowledge transfer and community building among women.

Margo Litvinova and Oleksandra Tsapko, born in 2002, complete the show with their collaborative short film titled The bee (2023).

The film is a surrealist exploration of the unbearable burden that every Ukrainian forced to flee their home by the outbreak of war experiences every day, inviting viewers to confront the harsh reality of war through a surreal and symbolic lens.

The ‘I saw the other side of the sun with you’ exhibition runs until 30 April 2023 at Cromwell Place, London.