Blackening Surrealism: Ted Joans’s Ethnographic Surrealist Historiography

Speaker: Dr Joanna Pawlik (University of Sussex)

Paintin on canvas in bright colours i Ted Joans, The White Hair Revolver Is Still Loaded, 1963. Assemblage of various objects on oil painting on canvas, 33 × 24.1 cm. © Laura Corsiglia / Estate of Ted Joans. Photo/ Constance Krebs, Association Atelier André Breton.

This paper explores the significant interventions made by African American artists, writers, and activists into Surrealisms postwar currency in the US. Foremost among them was Ted Joans, who collaborated with the Parisian circle of Surrealists during the 1960s, and later joined the Chicago group of Surrealists. Joans is better known as a writer from the Beat generation, but this paper explores his visual practice as a space through which he worked out multiple, and often competing allegiances to Surrealism, the Beats, and the Black Arts Movement. It focusses on his collage novel The Hipsters in particular which draws on the collage practice of Max Ernst to depict a satirical, pseudo-ethnographic account of the everyday life of beatniks and hipsters in Greenwich village, New York, in the early 1960s. I argue that in Joans’ collage work, surrealism itself might function, and indeed be regenerated, as an ethnographic object itself, out of place and out of time in postwar North America. 

Dr Joanna Pawlik is lecturer in the department of Art History at the University of Sussex (2014-). From 2008 to 2011 she taught in the Department of Art History and Visual Studies at the University of Manchester, collaborating with the AHRC Centre for the Study of Surrealism and its Legacies and contributing to its three-year project Surrealism and Queer Sexualities in particular. She received a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship in 2011 and the resulting monographRemade in America: Surrealist Art, Activism and Politics 1940-1978 will be published by University of California Press in Spring 2021. She received a Leverhulme Research Fellowship in 2020/21 for her new project ‘Figuring fascism in American art, 1945–1980’. She has published widely on surrealism, postwar American art and visual culture, transnationalism, regionalism, and little magazines.  

Organised by Professor David Peters Corbett (The Courtauld)