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The Politics of imperfection: The critical legacy of surrealist anti-colonialism

Kunda, M 2010 , 'The Politics of imperfection: The critical legacy of surrealist anti-colonialism', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania,.

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This thesis addresses the Surrealists’ anti-colonialism, arguing that the Surrealist
movement held a resolute line of political commitment that preceded and outran its
relation to Communism. This is a more positive view of Surrealism’s engagement
with politics than has been evident in much scholarly writing.
Earlier post World War II accounts of the Surrealist movement, influenced by
Marxism, foregrounded its torturous attempt to marry its energies with the French
Communist Party, and dismissed it as a failed avant-garde that lapsed into mere style
by the mid-to-late 1930s. A more recent ‘cultural studies’ lens, informed by
feminism, inflected with post-structuralism and shaped by post-colonial studies,
permits a broader view. Yet some commentators who take their cue from newer
disciplinary influences are, in their own ways, censorious of Surrealism’s
appropriation of non-European cultural artefacts, positing a conflict between the
movement’s visual praxis and its anti-colonial stance. By contrast, this thesis argues
that the stylistic experimentation engaged in by the Surrealists – a range of collagemontage,
appropriation, détournement and display strategies – were means for
exploding received ideas about colonialism, societal evolution and race; ideas that
justified cultural imperialism. Some art historical writings contribute to such a view.
Through an examination of the tracts, poems and objects that engage with issues of
colonialism and ‘the cultural other’, this thesis aims to demonstrate that Surrealism
did not abandon its critical and emancipatory aims, and nor did it uncouple political
critique from poetic and visual experimentation. Particular chapters are devoted to
anti-colonial tendencies and collage-montage strategies evident in the 1920s and
Thirties, and further developments in the post-World War II era when the
Surrealists’ exhibitions relied on radical displacement and theatrical staging.
Furthermore, the thesis invites a reassessment of Surrealism’s transgressive potential
and its use-value for post-colonialism, by demonstrating its continued relevance for
understanding work by Australian artists who refer to Australia’s colonial heritage:
Imants Tillers, Gordon Bennett and Tracey Moffatt.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Kunda, M
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