Lunchtime Lecture by Dr. Celia Rabinovitch: “Through Her Own Eyes”

By: Charlotte Mayer

On Wednesday, Nov. 3, Dr. Celia Rabinovitch gave a lecture called “Through Her Own Eyes – Surrealist Women Artists In Their Own Words.” The lecture took place from 12 to 1 p.m. over Zoom. Dr. Rabinovitch looked at the intertwining artistic biographies of surrealist women artists such as Frida Kahlo, Luchita Hurtado, Meret Oppenheim, Dorothea Tanning, Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington.

Dr. Celia Rabinovitch is an artist and writer “whose paintings of mood and luminous atmosphere evoke the uncanny,” says InsideSMCM. She has written two books: “Duchamp’s Pipe: A Chess Romance” and “Surrealism and the Sacred: Power, Eros and the Occult in Modern Art.” Her art has been shown in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. She earned an MFA in painting at the University of Wisconsin,and a Ph.D. in history of religions and art at McGill University in Montreal.

Rabinovitch realized there were many women artists not covered in our history, so she conducted a series of interviews consisting of audios and videotapes starting in 2007. These artists’ take on the art world was different from that of more renowned male artists. 

These women artists, including Frida Kahlo, Luchita Hurtado, Meret Oppenheim, Dorothea Tanning, Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington, challenged the view of women in surrealism as exotic objects or muses. Many of these women actually knew each other and were friends. 

While researching, Rabinovitch found that it is much more interesting to look at actual archives and form your own opinions rather than reading a book someone else has written. With books, you are only getting the author’s point of view, but Rabinovitch is “an independent thinker.” 

One of the more well-known artists Rabinovitch discussed was Frida Kahlo, who once said: “I am not surrealist, I never painted dreams. I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint always whatever passes through my head, without any other consideration.”

Male surrealist artists often “employed the image of woman as an emblem of the unconscious, rooted in the ground, an example of repetition compulsion, and as a vehicle for psychological projections,” according to the presentation. They also referred to the women artists of the movement as “femme-enfant, the child-woman, and saw them not as equals but as muses.”

Meret Oppenheim was a surrealist artist who produced sculptures, paintings, drawings, jewelry, and more. “She constantly challenged society’s rigid definition of male and female and encouraged her audience to tread the fine line between reality and dreams,” said Dr. Rabinovitch in her presentation. 

Another artist, Leanora Carrington, began studies in art at the age of 19 when she took painting lessons in London. She once said, “I don’t have time to be anyone’s muse… I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist.” Leonora Carrington was friends with Remedios Varo, a surrealist artist who worked in Spain, France and Mexico. Dr. Rabinovitch shared many of Varo’s paintings, which are haunting and dreamlike. 

Overall, this lecture was captivating and brought the words of many surrealist women artists to light. Said Dorothea Tanning: “Art has always been the raft onto which we climb to save our sanity. I don’t see a different purpose for it now.”

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