Surrealism is all the rage at the moment, and the question is why.

Why would a deliberate assault on reality in paintings be so popular? The answer lies in history, when the movement began in the early 20th century, and artists mutinied against the realities of World War I.

Just as those first Surrealists pushed back against the reality that brought the war with a new reality, the current uprising comes with a similar reason: the need to escape a deeply divided world.

(It’s ironic, isn’t it? Despite these artists’ zeal to flout logic with illogical forms, the resurgence of Surrealism makes all the sense in the world).

Living in a Surreal age

A headline from The Toronto Star signals the story: “Surrealism’s return in a very surreal age.” The biggest sign of the revival is the exhibit at the Venice Biennale opening next month with 214 Surrealists from 13 countries.

To emphasize these goings-on in the art world, the Biennale named its exhibit after the title of a book by early Surrealist Leonora Carrington called “The Milk of Dreams.”

But the Biennale emphasizes something else, too. Unlike the early days of Surrealism, when male artists dominated the movement, this time, the artists seeking to escape reality are women.

Not that there weren’t women in the early days. As art historian Whitney Chadwick pointed out in her 1985 book “Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement,” plenty of females were in the movement, but they were sidelined.

The Venice Biennale rectifies that.

Carrington’s run-in with sexism only ended last year when the Museum of Modern Art hung her work in its Surrealist Gallery alongside household names like Henri Rousseau, Giorgio di Chirico.

Also, last year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibited Carrington’s work in a show titled “Surrealism Beyond Borders,” which attested to the spread of the movement worldwide.

Long-running sexism

But Carrington, recognition came too late for her. She didn’t live to see these major New York museums show her work. She died in 2011 at the age of 94.

Included in the Met show was Carrington’s Self-Portrait, painted in 1937, in which she pictured herself with a head of wild hair seated opposite a prancing hyena.

A rocking horse appears to fly behind her while an actual horse galloping freely through a curtained window. The portrait is not supposed to make sense. Freeing herself (and us) from known realities, she invented her own.

But with Leonora Carrington now in the spotlight, I have a concern. I’m concerned that she will be confused with another painter with the same last name – Dora Carrington.

A biopic of Dora, titled “Carrington,” filmed in 1995 with Emma Thompson playing the lead, might lead audiences new to Leonora to Dora. They’re not alike at all.

Distinction with a difference

Granted, both women were British-born artists. But Dora was a generation older and used only her surname, contending her given name was too sentimental.

But as the biopic demonstrates scene after scene, Dora was sentimental to a sickening fault owing to her infatuation with the gay writer Lytton Strachey played by Jonathan Pryce.

Watching Dora pine for Strachey looked sappy and downright silly. However, I’m betting that Leonora wouldn’t allow herself to be so weak. She was one of the women’s liberation movement founders in Mexico, where she lived most of her adult life.

Another key difference between the two women. While Dora is identified as an artist, she rarely showed, assuming she had a body of work to show.

It’s hard to understand why a movie was made about Dora. Despite the movie title - “Carrington” - the focus seemed more on Strachey. Certainly, he was the more interesting character.