not a style, but a state of mind


This is for Cairo

In the mid-1930s, the Egyptian surrealist Georges Henein began to use the pages of the journal he edited, Un effort, to reflect the ideas of André Breton and his surrealist colleagues in Paris. Henein was in regular correspondence with Breton at the time and signed Breton’s statement “The Truth About the Moscow Trial”, which had defined Surrealism’s anti-Stalinist and pro-Trotskyist position.

In Cairo, surrealism was encouraged by photographer Lee Miller, who lived in Egypt between 1933 and 1939 as the wife of Cairo-born businessman Aziz Eloui Bey. She circulated surrealist writings and art among the group and organized surrealist events.

D is for dreams

The association of surrealism and dreams began in the 1920s, when Freudian analysis emerged to open up the unconscious and provide revealing interpretation. Drawing on dreams freed poets and artists from tired conventions. Writers published their dream tales, artists put dream images into their paintings, and movies experimented with fragmentary tales.

E is for Exquisite Corpse designs

Collective activities were the key to surrealism. The most practiced was the exquisite corpse game, in which the first participant began a drawing and then passed it to the next, after having folded the paper so that only the edges of the initial drawing were visible. The second person then extended the drawing, and so on. It usually took the form of a head, torso, legs, feet and, as with dreams and automatic writing, was intended to reveal invisible affinities and unconscious desires.

The game’s simplicity meant that anyone could try it out, and since it required no studio, printing press or darkroom, it also traveled well. The most spectacular example is Long Distance by Ted Joans, which began in 1976 and ended in 2005, when it included 132 artists from around the world.

F is for Fernando de Azevedo

An artist, art critic and curator, Azevedo was one of the founding members of the Grupo Surrealista de Lisboa (Lisbon Surrealist Group) which held its first – and only – exhibition in 1949.

Attracted by the surrealists’ interest in the occult, Azevedo developed, with Alexandre O’Neill, the technique of ocultacao (occultation). By masking parts of images with gouache or black ink and giving chance a major role in the process, they aimed to reveal unexpected shapes and, by extension, unknown parts of the unconscious.


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