Cosmopolitan surrealism
: an investigation into photographic circulation and the intercultural relations of an avant-garde movement

  • Lauren Walden

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Surrealism is a cosmopolitan cultural movement that transcends modern constructs of the nation-state. Indeed, Surrealism’s ontological focus on the individual, its revolutionary intent to attenuate national sovereignty and its hybrid cultural identity all attest to diverse facets of Cosmopolitanism broadly conceived. Notwithstanding, Surrealism has been presented as Paris-centric, which elides the range and reach of its global expanse. Therefore, this thesis argues for Surrealism’s international sphere of influence through the prism of cosmopolitan theory, moving beyond frequently used critical frameworks of Marxism, Feminism, Psychoanalysis and Postmodernism. In particular, the principal aim of this thesis focusses on photographic output of Surrealism, documentary and artistic, as a conduit for the dissemination of non-European and marginalised iconographies. As such, the thesis will investigate how the photographic medium and practices contribute to and develop Surrealism’s cosmopolitan interchange between cultures in multifarious ways. In order to achieve this aim, the thesis argues that the cosmopolitan nature of Surrealist photography has a thorough historical grounding in fin-de-siècle movements such as Symbolism, and in particular, its related photographic output. It will also investigate photography in Surrealist journals which disseminated hybrid, Western and non-Western iconographies to a worldwide audience, explored as a contributing factor to a Cosmopolitan Surrealism. The thesis goes on to examine the ways in which Surrealist curatorial practices develop a cosmopolitan methodology through their incorporation of non-Western objects via photographic reproductions. Two case studies will interrogate persisting tensions regarding the movement's treatment of the female gender from a non-European angle. The thesis will subsequently postulate that Surrealism is a not a culturally specific movement, coalescing with non-Western philosophies and cultures via the photographic medium. In sum, the thesis objective is to prove that the photographic medium was an indispensable tool and vision in the creation of a ‘Cosmopolitan Surrealism’, transcending the conceptions of national boundaries through multiple networks of global exchange harnessed by the Surrealists such as exhibitions, periodicals, photographic reproductions and the incorporation of non-western photographers into the movement. It will conclude that Cosmopolitanism became an empirical reality for Surrealist groupings around the world in contradistinction to a mere theoretical espousal.
Date of AwardMay 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorJuliet Simpson (Supervisor) & Imogen Racz (Supervisor)

Cite this