Early politics (1988) Dorothea Tanning

The Irish nuns in our convent favoured  the term of abuse ‘ridiculous’ or ‘ridiccaless’ in their vernacular. ‘Don’t be ridiculous Rebecca’ when I questioned anything outside their dogma, tradition or values. Not being a Catholic, and having arty parents, I wasn’t called this anywhere else; my dad encouraged me to look beyond the four walls of indoctrination. It slightly improved when I went to art school in the seventies, I wasn’t called ridiculous, but two tutors were sleeping with young female students and the male creative writing tutor became a bit of a nuisance, turning up at my house and waylaying my dad. There was one absolute pleasure in a weary trail through conceptualism and the male dominated syllabus and staff. The period we studied in art history was Modernism and the Surrealists. This focused totally on the males and any women were designated to the role of handmaiden. It took my own research to reclaim the women artists of this period, no one put them in the fore front; their choices and work was validated by men, or not at all. I trawled the Joseph Cornell book “Master of Dreams’ for a mention of Mina Loy. Elsa von Freytag-loringhoven and Claude Cahun are often moulded to current agendas.

While reading the review in The Sunday Times of the Dorothea Tanning exhibition at the Tate, I was acutely aware that women Surrealist artists in particular such as Dorothea are being reviewed through one prism. Surrealism is bound up with sex, the sub-conscious, symbols and allegories. Surrealism allowed women to uniquely express their experiences; a woman could have been tried by a male judge and burnt as a witch for such practices in the eighteenth century.

Can a male critic get the perspective of a female Surrealist? So I asked on the Twittersphere and the immediate response was…. I’m ridiculous.

From what I can gage some males have supported my view, women mostly not but the convent put me off the sisterhood in 1960s; being in a girls’ school, watching nuns giggle and blush around strutting popinjay priests, hem touching like latter day groupies was enough for me.

As for Twitter?

“I often feel I am being burned at the stake just because I have always refused to give up that wonderful strange power I have inside me that becomes manifested when I am in harmonious communication with some other inspired being.” (Leonora Carrington)

What  a ridiculous aspiration, now,  in the 21st century