When you say Surrealism, Salvador Dali likely pops into your head. Cecilia Alemani, who is curating the Venice Biennale 2022, will change that mindset.

As she told Art News: “I didn’t need to include Salvador Dali.” Making her point is the exhibit opening on April 23 with a grand total of 213 Surrealists from 58 countries.

But, wait, there’s more to this story. The Venice Biennale this year is heavy on female Surrealists. An Art News headline noted the “unprecedented number of women” on view for this 20th-century avant-garde movement.

Hinting at this female presence in the show title itself, “The Milk of Dreams,” which was taken from a drawing series by an early 20th-century painter of dreams, Leonora Carrington.

When dreams matter

Why so many female Surrealists? When you think about the history of the movement, the picturing of dreams by women makes all the sense in the world. The style began by male artists in rebellion against the horrors of the first world war.

The destruction of that war pushed painters out of the known world into an uprising against all of Western culture. Overthrowing reality liberated them from the subjugation of the past.

Isn’t that the consummate call for women long ignored by the male-domination art world? Surrealism freed their images from the usual associations.

By placing the disparate side-by-side and flouting all logic, this art movement became the sublime approach for female artists.

By denying the reality that subjugated them, they create a new reality – their own.

Breaking through at last

Female Surrealists’ run-ins with sexism are only now ending. Last year the Museum of Modern Art made news when at last it mounted Carrington’s dreams in its Surrealist Gallery beside her male colleagues.

But the end didn’t come soon enough for Jacqueline Lamba who didn’t live to see the Dali Museum mount a retrospective of her art in 2001 under the knowing banner “In Spite of Everything.”

“Everything” included her marriage to the founder of the movement, Andre Breton.

The only time she made the news as his wife was when she showed up in portraits by the likes of his fellow Surrealists Man Ray, Lam, and Masson.

Yet, Lamba created more than 400 works. She was so dedicated to artmaking that she wrote to a friend: “If you hear that I am no longer painting, it is because I have died.” Even having suffered from Alzheimer’s in her later years, she went on painting.

Carrington also suffered from Alzheimer’s, and like Lamba, was so focused on her picture-making that she continued painting until her death at age 94 in 2011.

Despite her affliction, her awareness of sexism in the art world remained intact. She told The Guardian in 2007 of an incident with Surrealist Miro who gave her some money to buy him a pack of cigarettes. She refused, telling him: “He could bloody well get them himself.”