Discussion with Karla Huebner about her book on Toyen

CRAACE is please to co-host this online event with Fulbright Czech Republic and Společnost pro queer paměť.

 On 11 May 2022 at 8 pm CET

Dr. Karla Huebner, author of Magnetic Woman:Toyen and the Surrealist Erotic (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020)

will discuss this gender-ambiguous Czech surrealist artist, who was born Marie Čermínová (1902–1980). Toyen’s early life in Prague made it possible to become a force in three avant-garde groups – Devětsil, Prague surrealism, and Paris surrealism – and also to emphasize erotic themes in many works of visual art. Dr. Huebner will focus on Toyen’s construction of gender and eroticism in relation to the artist’s historical context as a gender nonconforming person and probable sexual minority during the First Republic.

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Toyen: The Paradise of the Blacks, 1925

Artwork of the Month, March 2022: The Paradise of the Blacks by Toyen (1925)

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, a negrophile is ‘someone (especially a white person) who is very sympathetic to or supportive of Black people, their culture, or their rights and interests.’[1] The levels of sympathy and support may, indeed, differ and be open to interpretation. Negrophilia, then, is the attraction to Black culture and Black people, often linked to the fascination of the interwar avant-garde with Africans and African Americans in European metropolises.[2] Between the wars, Black culture became a subject of inspiration, captivation but mostly exploitation by many writers, poets, painters, musicians, or dancers from Paris to Prague.

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Interior view of th exhibition Civilised Woman

Whose modernity is it? A Brno exhibition that highlights the paradox of the interwar ‘civilised’ woman

She was the perfect type of modern girl around 1930, a kind of vague thing between an adult girl and an underage boy, between physical culture and mental exhaustion, between gymnastics and black dance, between classical sculpture and the products of the modern art industry.[1]

Taken from the book Ženy na rampě (Women on the ramp, 1934), this quote by the writer Maryna Fričová  encapsulates the paradoxes of the ideal modern woman as she graced the covers of women’s magazines, featured in movies and presented the latest fashion in interwar Czechoslovakia. Projected on a wall at the entrance to the exhibition Civilizovaná žena: Ideál i paradox prvorepublikové vizuální kultury (Civilised Woman: Ideal and Paradox in the Visual Culture of the First Republic), curated by Martina Pachmanová and Kateřina Svatoňová at the Moravian Gallery in Brno, Fričová’s statement serves as an ideal starting point to an exhibition, which focuses on the Czech type of the modern woman – the ‘civilised woman’ – and her representation in interwar visual culture.

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Zdeněk Rossmann, The Civilised Woman, poster, 1929

Artwork of the Month, October 2021: The Civilised Woman by Zdeněk Rossmann (1929)

‘In Zurich, the head of a hospital dismissed a female attendant because she had her hair cut short. Would it be possible for the female head of a hospital to fire a male attendant for this reason?’ asked Adolf Loos (1870–1933) in his response to the question ‘Kurz oder lang – männlich oder weiblich?’ (Short or long – masculine or feminine?) posed by the Viennese newspaper Neue Freie Presse in 1928.[1] Subtitled ‘Comments from prominent artists on the women’s fashion crisis,’ the questionnaire appealed to seven respondents – six men and one woman – for their views on the recent trend of women having short haircuts. Loos’s response was the odd one out, because he saw no reason to even ask such question. While it would be a stretch to portray him as a defender of gender equality, Loos’s argument for the short haircut could be seen as part and parcel of his belief in modernity and the practicality of design. All the other respondents were much more critical of the short hair, citing as problems the masculinisation of women, slavery to fashion, or the need to look after a short haircut much more. The actress Lili Marberg (1876–1962) also noted that while she could see the benefits of short hair for sports, it did not go well with evening dresses, which she liked wearing.

The ‘crisis of women’s fashion’ was a phenomenon widely discussed not only in Austria but around Central Europe at this time. At the same time, short hair in the form of the bubikopf (a bob) became a symbol of women’s emancipation, modernity and their liberation from the tradition of the home-bound woman. It, nevertheless, quickly gained new connotations and apart from signifying freedom, the short hair quickly became associated with a lack of femininity, with promiscuity, and even Jewishness.[2]  In Czechoslovakia the symbolic cutting of long hair became the main subject in a poster promoting an exhibition on women’s modernity called The Civilised Woman. The exhibition, which took place in the city of Brno at the end of 1929 and beginning of 1930, tried to put forward a vision of the modern way of dressing for women.

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