Feminine, Feminist and Sinister: 

Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo and Occult Imagery

As Subversive Narrative Strategies


Both Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo employed occult motifs to identify with the particular strengths of their avatars, and to reclaim the power of women within the context of witchcraft. For these female Surrealists, their use of animal images in self-portraits did not equate to a passive acceptance of the traditional male view of women as morally deficient, and proximate to primitives and nature. These depictions are instead a method of inverting this imagery, and re-valuing the historical power of women in terms of pre-Christian goddess influences, and specifically, the more recent history of witchcraft. That Surrealism encouraged the exploration of these tropes – self-portraiture, hybridity, the occult – is one of the reasons women were (and still are) so attracted to working in this movement, despite its own problematic theoretical foundations vis-à-vis the role of women. The paradox of Surrealism’s view of women and the accomplishments that women have enjoyed working within it, is resolved in the success of the subtle strategies women have employed to subvert the ideal of the femme-enfant through occult images, to create a new myth of feminine empowerment.