Surrealism In Africa /Research By / Mohsen Elbelasy 

Surrealism In Africa 

File By / Mohsen Elbelasy

Published in the second issue of the Room Surrealist Magazine

Jan 2022

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In my opinion, Egyptian Surrealism has taken some of its right to research and excavation, although I believe that it needs more research. But in this file, I will focus on African surrealism away from Egyptian surrealism. 

To talk about the features of the African literary movement aesthetically, we must focus on the colonial era where African literature had the ambition to be internationally heard. 

And on the other hand, when the Surrealist movement was established, starting in 1919, the European world was still affected by the disasters of the first war and the general direction of literary, artistic, and philosophical movements was to question the European value system, this imbalance left the door open to other civilizations to enter the European mind where the Surrealists in Europe had an interest Especially in  African art as a way to reject the colonialism.

The Surrealists are also known for their systematic rejection of colonial Western values that caused enslavement disasters to the imagination of mankind.

Also, Religion and the exploitation of the black man from the colonial system played a fundamental role in the representation of Africa, not only in literature but also clearly in public opinion since the Middle Ages, where the black color was a reflection of negative and frightening elements such as night and dark, to which the religious teachings that linked The devil is black.

Therefore, it was time to give names to the African people because of the dark skin color like God’s cursed people, or the fearful people.

On the other hand, the surrealists reflect these previously created value relationships made of white as a reflection of negative elements such as inertia and death, while black color acquire strength and vitality that nourishes life as  Jean-Claude Blachèr said :

(In surrealist symbolism, the live black  color opposes white, which is a sign of weakness and a symptom of mental anemia.)

Philippe soupault

  He is the one who made the best illustration of 

This vision is in his novel (Le Nègre ) : 

(O whites, white-skinned people of jealousy, whites, whosoever does not know the smile, your time is about to go …)

And he said too  : 

(Your ego is white, and white will not save you, your white bones, 

White, and also whiter than your skin, will not carry you anymore, and you will go catch up, there, with those ancestors faltering and Harding themselves, those who have now returned only a little of this soft and flabby grass that grows among your road stones, you know, the ones you call patriotism. )

In the eighteenth century, the African continent became a negative reflection of an obedient and submissive people. Despite the revolutions of the peoples at this time that trade in the African person continued, there were global attempts to change this perception.

Indeed, it is not a matter of granting the peoples of Africa rights equal to those of Europeans as much as it is about saving the colonial system on the assumption that black men will serve better if they do so willingly.

As for the global view of Africa in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it contained many contradictions.

And the emergence of anthropometric racism that scientifically tends to justify the inferiority of the black man with the white man and on the other side the emergence of currents defending the African man and these contradictions appeared in European literature.

All this generates, at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a dual relationship with Africa. The continent, which has always been considered a troublesome and brutal place in which the hero is lost, by death or madness, evokes both the exciting magic and the perfect gravity in the minds of some Europeans where a European man can escape from the city and build a new space, fake or real, on this virgin land.

Therefore, the representation of Africa in the mind of the western world is inseparable from the historical events related to colonialism. The identity of the continent in literary works as well as in public opinion

It changed with the changing attitudes of colonialism, Depending on the colonial view if the black person reassures or threatens the white man.

Colonial crimes on the continent seem to have become a tool for anti-colonial expression, especially for Western expression.

and, Colonial and oppressed peoples, in general, were the hope of the Surrealists because they represented the power able to topple the European system at that time but Africa appears mainly in the theses of the surrealist poet Michel Leiris as an escape space from the Western world. We may think the same vision it  was in the minds of some thinkers at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, but Michel Leiris added a very strong dimension against the West where he says:

(On my own, I had to push myself to continue my path, instead of returning to my bed, my first project to challenge white prejudices by making friends with Africans.)

Michel Leiris and Africa:

Michel Leiris was a French surrealist writer and researcher born in 1901 and left in 1990.

Michel Leiris’ trip to Africa began on May 19, 1931, and ended on February 16, 1933, after which he devoted himself to the study of ethnology and specifically to the study of African peoples. Before traveling to Africa, he was searching for the values ​​of primitive peoples to escape from  the Western civilization  that he hates, and wrote the following in the pamphlet that he kept on his journey:

(Going to Africa, I was hoping to have a heart! I am over thirty years old, and I am getting old and I still have this mentality ..)

When, without any prior experience, Michel Leiris

 was offered the position of the archivist on a two-year ethnographic journey through sub-Saharan Africa, he was a frustrated poet seeking to escape from the Parisian literary scene. Before that, he was working with George Bataille in the “documents ” magazine office when he met the famous anthropologist Marcel Griaule and got the invitation. He agreed to accept the trip under the supervision of a psychoanalyst who was treating his deep depression. He was informed that the change would benefit him.

Of course, it wasn’t that simple. 

Michel Leiris was drawn to this adventure for several personal reasons. One was the desire to indulge in strange imagination – mysterious, and exciting at once -that associated with “Africa”. Which led to a pivotal change in his career and creativity.

Michel Leiris’s primary role with the mission included reporting, keeping daily records, and drafting a catalog of all artifacts — about 3,700 pieces of artwork, manuscripts, and a sample of zoology collected along the way. However, despite his lack of training, he has also participated in a wide range of ethnographic tasks including data and information collection, interviewing Africans, and afterward. Besides all this, he kept a journal, a daily recording of the team’s travels and activities with a personal touch. 

The resulting notebooks, collected after his return to Paris, formed his first book, “Phantom Africa”.

. It was first published in 1934, a second updated version was published in 1951, and a third in 1981.

The codification of the book begins in the book on May 19, 1931, when they sailed from Bordeaux and ends as they approach the port of Marseille on February 16, 1933. The Phantom of Africa is neither a traditional diary nor a journey. There is no attempt to evoke a great narration or a heroic story…

For example, the book includes notices during their long stay in Gondar in northern Ethiopia and extensive notes of the sacrifices of the (zar) rituals that he attends. 

The celebrations last for days and he leaves no details. However, when he feels bored, and over time, he succumbs to the introspective anatomy

of his ambitions, doubts, and insecurity, which creates, for his fans and readers, an atmosphere of intimacy that seems to deepen over time, this recording was written with the intention of publishing, but It seems as if he is writing first and foremost for himself and his wife. . Like adventure tales, ritual details and celebrations, and descriptions of his night dreams are all in the mix.

It may be hard to imagine how the narrator in Phantom Of Africa whose mood from joy to depression turns very quickly, but this book paints a comprehensive and important picture of ethnographic activity at the height of French colonial occupation. However, the author’s poetic talents shine, even in the middle of the narrative parts.

Michel Leiris has certainly returned from this journey and his main concern is to uncover the worlds of Africa. His work attests to extensive research in the regions intertwined with the black, African, and Caribbean worlds, as well as an interest in the moral and even innate characteristics of these peoples, Michel Leiris spent a lot of time re-evaluating African art, not only fine art but also music, linguistic systems, and ancient African languages.

Over time Africa, for Michel Leiris, becomes more of a primitive legend,

Shortly after returning from Africa, he wrote a poem. 

“The Red sea  Mermaid” written in 1934-1935 and its theme was African women:

(Africa stripped naked 

Refusing the jewelry that was tying her prominent breasts

Her songs all shook like hurricane winds with a heavy blood flow of sacrifices between her sweaty legs, 

Eternal and violent menstruation. )

Georges Bataille and  The journal “Documents”

The journal Documents, founded by art-critic Carl Einstein and led by Georges Bataille, during its brief time span between 1929 and 1931, was one of the earliest prominent examples of Ethnographic Surrealism. 

The journal offered mainly those artists and writers a forum who had parted with André Breton after disputes inside the Surrealist movement during the 1920s, among them Michel Leiris, André Masson, and Juan Miró.[4] The original subtitle of the journal indicates its main reference points: “Archéologie, Beaux-Arts, Etnographie, variétés” (Archaeology, Fine Arts, Ethnography, Varieties). “Archéologie” was indicating a strong and detailed interest in the objects of material culture. “Beaux-Arts” meant mainly the contemporary art of the time, for example Max Ernst, Alberto Giacometti, and Pablo Picasso. “Etnographie” stood for the allure of the exotic, which was sought both in faraway places as well as in Parisian backyards. The designation “Variété,” which later fell away, represented a performative and playful approach. The journal stood for an evocative and sometimes macabre combination of disparate elements from high- and popular culture. Essays on ethnographic research found their places alongside photographs of apes dressed in women’s clothes, close-up views of human organs, and images of Brazilian puppet-heads or the frozen river Seine. The journal thus not only assembled the voices of Ethnographic Surrealism, it also put this approach into practice. After Documents ended in the 1930s, it was quickly followed by other rather short-lived Surrealist journals.

Documents was financed by Georges Wildenstein, an influential Parisian art dealer and sponsor of the Surrealists. Given its title and focus, the magazine initially listed an eleven-member editorial board including Wildenstein himself (with Bataille listed as “general secretary”); however, by the fifth issue, Bataille was the only editorial member to remain on the masthead.

Called “a war machine against received ideas” by Bataille, Documents brought together a wide range of contributors, ranging from dissident surrealists including Michel Leiris, André Masson, and Joan Miró, to Bataille’s numismatist colleagues at the National Library’s Cabinet of Coins and Medals. The publication’s content was even more wide-ranging, juxtaposing essays on jazz and archaeology with a photographic series fetishizing the big toe, an entire issue dedicated to Picasso, and paeans to the “ominous grandeur” of the slaughterhouses photographed by Eli Lotar. A regular section of the magazine called the “Critical Dictionary” offered short essays on such subjects as “Absolute,” “Eye,” “Factory Chimney,” and “Keaton (Buster).”

Documents was a direct challenge to “mainstream” Surrealism as championed by André Breton, who in his Second Surrealist Manifesto of 1929 derided Bataille as “(professing) to wish only to consider in the world that which is vilest, most discouraging, and most corrupted.” The violent juxtapositions of pictures and text in Documents were intended to provide a darker and more primal alternative to what Bataille viewed as Breton’s disingenuous and weak brand of Surrealist art. By presenting explicit, often profane imagery side by side with “intellectual” writing, Bataille used Documents to propel Surrealism in a direction he felt Breton dared not: toward an overturning of all hierarchies of art and morality, and a complete democracy of form.


André Breton

André Breton himself admitted that among African poets and artists many carry surrealist values and over time the term “surrealism” has spread to describe all that is strange and unrealistic and carries a systematic confusion of reality. Several African writers were convinced that they were surrealists following the critical and philosophical thesis of surrealism and for seeking to place their literary and artistic product in a well-known category.

 So we have two main lines that could form the term African surrealism:

1- The attraction of French and European Surrealism to African art

2_ African art and literature imbued with surrealist features and values

These two lines do not intersect, but they complement each other,


To give a clear understanding of African surrealism, we must compare the texts of the French surrealists and the texts of the African “surrealists” to notice the similarities.

  And/or the differences that may exist between the main topics such as love, freedom, dream, and what is related to it, from the concepts of place and time because surrealism is an inner view of the world that has its reason and its way of being in every culture.

This is an endless research section.

But, French Surrealism was born At the same time that the first African thinkers arrived in France, especially in Paris.

The poet, writer, thinker, and ex-president of Senegal “Léopold Sédar Senghor 1906 – 2001”

had a great impact on the emergence of African surrealism and had a special perspective for it and if this perspective carries some contradictions, The poet, writer, thinker and ex-president of Senegal “Léopold Sédar Senghor 1906 – 2001”

had a great impact on the emergence of African surrealism and had a special perspective for it and if this perspective carries some contradictions, Senghor linked African surrealism not only geographically with the continent but with the physical condition, to be black.

 So the black Surrealist from Latin America or the West Indies represents an African Surrealism that conflicts with the Western values ​​that shaped that colonial civilization.

“Négritude” and surrealism :

Senghor arrived in Paris in 1930 to study at the height of the activity of the Surrealist movement in Paris and was an important part of the founding of the “Négritudemovement. 

And “Négritude” is a framework for criticism and literary theorization, developed by French-speaking thinkers, writers, and politicians from the African diaspora in the 1930s,

To increase “black awareness” in Africa and the African diaspora in general. It was founded by Martinique poet Amy Cesar, Leopold Cedar Senghor, and Leon Damas. 

” Négritude “thinkers denounced colonialism and stressed the importance of feeling a sense of belonging to Africa and being connected to all people of African roots around the world.

Its thinkers used Marxist political philosophy in the traditions of radical blacks. They relied on a surrealist literary style, and they are also said to have been influenced by Surrealist stylism, and often studied in their writings the existence between the diaspora, assertion of self and identity, and the ideas of “homes”, “going home” and “belonging”.

The Négritude movement, like the first surrealist movement, was the product of a turbulent historical context.

  André Breton explains that surrealist consciousness came from the (the first World War) state:

He said : 

 (I say that what was connecting the surrealist position, at the beginning, with that of Lautréamont and Rimbaud

 and what linked our destiny to their destiny forever, is the defeat of the  war.)

Consequently, the war prompted Andre Breton, Louis Aragon, and Philippe soupault to establish a surrealist movement based on the concept of revolution to eliminate what was conditioned by war, namely the elimination of the idea of nationalism, family values, religion, and work. In short, everything is related to the bourgeoisie. 

It is the same war that opens the door of freedom to oppressed peoples.

After the war, the African cultural elite became aware of their strength and the goals of their struggle.

Before the emergence of the Négritude movement, this struggle of consciousness developed among the African students in Paris.

Then the movement began to be formed by Aimé Césaire from Martinique, Senghor from Senegal, and Leon Damas. 

. The Movement theory didn’t appear immediately, but these students were aware of what They wanted to express before they could name their movement. Just like surrealism

The experiment came before the theory. 

The movement of Négritude through Aimé Césaire was also associated with the liberation movements and resistance against slavery in America.

Therefore, the movement of Negro and Surrealism are, in principle, similar to the desire to deviate from the values ​​of the colonial Western world.

History also tends to combine the two movements through its temporal and geographical proximity, because the two movements were created in Paris with some ideological difference between the two movements. However, in both the same word it comes out again and again. This word is only “freedom.”

  Surrealism and  Négritude fight both in the name of freedom.

It appears to be the same title by which the various theoretical texts of Senghor were collected

( The Freedom) 

indicates this priority and is the priority of the struggle for freedom. Senghor wrote in the first volume of this five-volume series:

((But why is this title of freedom? The truth is that the writings gathered here have their general theme of gaining freedom, such as retrieval, assertion, defense, and clarification of the collective personality of black peoples: 


Also, the poetic path of the Surrealists and the movement of  Négritude often converge on both sides, poetry holds a firm place, Surrealists have long appreciated poetry, So it is not surprising that is the path they choose to change the world.

Also, Aimé Césaire and  Senghor and members of the Négritude movement shouted above all that poetry is their main work. It is the starting point for expressing the movement of the Négritude. Senghor himself admits in his poetic work that he doesn’t  always adhere to the political party of his words: “The politician is dead, and the poet lives!”

when poetry is freed from all literary restraints, all-logical and moral prejudices, it becomes eminently revolutionary.  Such poetry could stimulate realistic dreams or incite to the vision of a New World order, which could induce the readers to get engaged in revolutionary acts of liberation. For the surrealists, the poet must be a leader, among those who have committed themselves in the struggle for a New World of justice and love. This concept of poetry as action, knowledge, and foresight was also the concept held by the majority of Negro-African poets. Proclaimed Senghor:  “I had only to  name things and elements of my childhood universe to predict the future world which would reborn from the ashes  of the old

Senghor’s vision of surrealism : 

From Senghor’s viewpoint, black African Surrealism is fundamentally different from Surrealism, as Andre Breton defined it by its super-realistic nature.

It centers on a sensory relationship, not in the sexual sense, but rather as a relationship created by the physical senses with nature and its mysteries, and its inner rhythm.

In his view, the special sensitivity of an African makes it possible to reach and understand the hidden links that unite man with nature, on a larger scale of the universe.

For him, this surrealist ability transcends the experience that characterizes the practice of the French surrealists, because it is part of the way of life of the black Africans, and it is part of their traditions and culture.

Thus, Senghor connects Surrealism to that vision that dates back to (revivalism),

It is a religious practice for the ancestors of a large number of Africans, That is, Senghor connects Surrealism with models that resemble Sufism and this, in my view as mohsen Elbleasy, represents a philosophical contradiction with real Surrealism, there is a vast difference between Surrealism and Sufism. 

Whereas Sufism takes religious treatises as a reference and the main source for its perceptions, while Surrealism views religious treatises as huge exploitation and shackles that must be destroyed. Religious perceptions in all its forms negate the poetic intuition upon which Surrealism is based.

“Revivalism consists, in one word, of intuition in a surrealist world, in which man is bound, on the one hand, by man, and on the other hand by God, through mediation through the ancestral spirits,”

says Singhor.

He also says:

(A distinction must be made here between European Surrealism, which is only experimental, and black African Surrealism with a metaphysical character, and the supernatural character.

Andre Breton also  writes :

((That the poetic analogy shares this with the mysterious analogy … the leap that must be provided by “))

But the Afro-black poetic analogy rejects this contradiction and rejects to remain locked in the contradiction.

It is primarily sensual and deeply rooted in subjectivity; Except that it exceeds

  “The delicate framework”, to find its meaning and purpose in the world of the supernatural “.…………

In his definition of African Surrealism, unlike European Surrealism,

Senghor writes: (So, African Surrealism is semi-realistic – not empirical like that in the West, but sufist metaphysical Participates in vitality through symbiosis and harmony).

This is a vision that contradicts the basis of Surrealism, and we have similar Arab theses in the Arab world, for example, the Syrian poet Adonis presented in his book Surrealism and Sufism in which he links Surrealism with Sufism in a superficial way away from Surrealist philosophy.

Singhor also makes a clear difference from his point of view between empirical surrealism, in Europe, and African innate surrealism in terms of harmony with the environment in Africa.

The question is how true this difference is.

It is true that when we think of surrealism as practiced by Andre Breton and his group, it does not seem to us innate. Starting with targeted, automated writing.

Also, there is a big difference between Surrealism that Senghor talks about and French Surrealism. In the case of the French surrealists, we note violent opposition to what is known To society as a whole, especially Western society,

And in a surrealist dialogue based on a system of questions and answers, there was a question to Andre Breton: “What is society?”,

Benjamin Beret replied,

“It is putrefaction .”

When the French surrealists reject society, they talk about all the values ​​of that society

This includes work, religion, moral values ​​, or even

the family.

As for the African surrealism

 For Senghor, it is a way to hold  African values ​​to separate from the Western values, at least from the colonial West, 

Senghor seems to have used his surrealistic vision as a way to deeply return to his roots or as a way to better understand his history and culture. and it seems that the French Surrealist movement gave at least to Senghor the necessary tools to make this trip to the heart of his civilization. Senghor discovered deep African art in Paris and especially through the Surrealists. Senghor also viewed Surrealism as a linguistic tool, making it possible to find a way to express in the French language to facilitate Translate African aesthetic thought.

But on the other hand, Senghor had a materialistic view of Surrealism, and he saw it as an expression of a surrealist world that was rooted in the real world where each element in itself is surrealist.

Légitime Défense : 

There was also a short-term organized African surrealist  activity in 1932,

A group of the town of Martinique, including Africans who came to study in Paris, published a magazine of

” Légitime Défense”

, just Only one issue was issued.

Then Étienne Léro, René Ménil, Jules-Marcel Monnerot. Maurice-Sabas Quitman et Simone Yoyotte declared themselves as a surrealist.

This is attested to by the title of the magazine

“Légitime Défense”

is the same title that Andre Breton gave to one of his texts in 1926.

As stated in the first issue of their magazine :

(We accept Surrealism, from French Surrealism to African Surrealism)

(We stand here against anyone who does not suffocate with this

Capitalist, Christian and bourgeois world)

The view of The European surrealism  to the  African surrealism:


For André  Breton, one of the promoters and the moving spirit of this movement, the surrealist’s state of mind extends deeply into the spectrum of history.  The peculiar manifestations of this earlier surrealism, although fortuitous, would express, nevertheless, those everlasting transcendental attitudes of human beings: revolt against a worthless life, the tireless quest for freedom and happiness, exaltation of desire and love. The surrealist’s ambition would be to make permanent for mankind, those feelings which were confined and occasional in previous times. Beyond its literary aims, surrealism aspired to nothing less than to free the human race from all the restraints and servitude inflicted upon him by a utilitarian civilization; thereby, to restore mankind’s true condition. By denying resolutely reason, logic, and intelligence, surrealism would attempt to recover those unexploited inner-richnesses, which were concealed in the very regions of surreality: human’s depth of unconsciousness, his primitive instincts, and his dreams. From a philosophical standpoint, André  Breton defined surrealism this way:

Surrealism rests on the belief in the highest reality of certain hitherto neglected forms of association; in the omnipotence of dreams; in the disinterested play of thought. It tends to destroy definitively other physical mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in the solution of life’s principal problem.

And In the twentieth century, Surrealism was the only major modern cultural movement of European origin in which men and women of African descent participated on an equal footing with Europeans in large numbers. The African influence on the founders of Surrealism was evident even before they called themselves Surrealists – that is, before the formation of the movement in 1924. Early in 1919 the emergence of African American jazz in France was a prominent historical event for Andre Breton and his friends and duly mentioned and honored after Thirty-one years on the Surrealist Groups List (1950).

Also, Alexander Dumas’ early works were very important. Dumas was the most famous African-American author in France, and Breton, Louis Aragon, Philippe Soupault, and Jacques Fasche – the main players in the shaping of the first  Surrealist movement – had known for some time in the name of the Three Musketeers as Victor Hugo’s works also had another influence on the first Surrealist generation – Victor Hugo’s works were an early source in the awareness of the first Surrealists regarding the cruel struggle adopted by the Surrealists group in the face of white supremacy, and in the face of ethnic slavery, most writers and artists strongly opposed to the slave trade were heroes in the eyes of the Surrealists and remained so until now, and in the summer issue  1959 of The surrealists’ magazine in Milan (Front Unique). 

Also, ( Marat) Declaration in  December 1791, which defends the right of slaves to rebel in the colonies, was reprinted by the surrealists, as the Surrealists struggled in France and struggled against French colonialism in Algeria, also the hero of the first African origin for Surrealists was undoubted “Toussaint L’Ouverture” (Haitian liberator) He was a particularly important figure for Andre Breton. And in Andre Breton’s first interview in New York as a refugee  escaped from Nazism in 1941, he told  about a dream he saw and was the militant ” Zapata”,

 as he prepares with His army to welcome Toussaint L’Ouverture

 to give him the honor that he deserves.

On the other hand, because organized Surrealism began in France, its first followers in other countries tended to be French-speaking artists and intellectuals

Like many Africans who speak french too 

. At that early stage, only scattered attention was given to Surrealists whose mother tongue was not French. By the middle of 30s, a large group of Surrealists had formed in London, and many of the most active Surrealists – including David Gascoyne, Hugh Sykes-Davies, and others began studying the English precursors of the movement.

Then there was a subsequent in-depth pursuit of Surrealists in the United States to develop our knowledge of the historical roots of Surrealism. Indeed, Surrealism was also  and continues to this day  in line with what American Surrealist Philip LaMantia described as

“Central African Surrealism”

 As he was interested in Gnosticism, alchemists, and the legacy of African magic.

This concern and bias represented a severe criticism and hostility against colonialism and slavery, The struggle of the Surrealists was not only merely an affirmation of the Enlightenment trying to dig into ancient Greek and Roman civilization but also and in particular there was an endeavor to revive the philosophies of ancient Egypt.

Also, there was widespread interest from many Surrealists about ancient non-Western civilizations in Africa and non-Africa, for example : 

Jorge Camacho,

, Élie-Charles Flamand 

, Joseph Jablonski 

, Gérard legrand  

, Pierre Mabille 

, Kurt Seligmann 

These names focused their attention on the ritual magic and ancient art of Africa and other oppressed civilizations of Western culture. 

The Surrealists were, in fact, among the first to defend African tribal sculptures, not from the traditional aesthetic point of view – that is, not only decorative goods suitable for display in museums or “art detention centers” but also the manifestations of poetry in those sculptures and objects imbued with spiritual energy and thus this It represents a critique of the vital elements in daily life in the industrial Western civilization. The surrealists also rejected the bad habit of archaeologists in classifying such works as artifacts only.

Andre Breton and his friends also went further to build this art as an active and creative force in developing new and revolutionary sensitivity. In the so-called primitive arts of Africa, What Breton later called

  “Convulsive beauty” 

Surrealism and African culture :

In most of the product of African literature, Surrealism was strongly present, either as pure surrealism or braided in intense literary forms, by mixing the magical features of the ancient African heritage,

Where this mixing depends on the forms of knowledge inspired by holiness, madness, dreams, images, symbols, and legend, and uses these forms to form a world parallel to the conscious mind or the realistic mind, to achieve the contradictions that the mind considers as impossible.

and In the surrealist features of African literature, the exceptional presence of individuals, such as madness or deities, is inspired by the prevailing belief systems in African cultural heritage.

To discover the truth of man through systematic, thoughtful, and intended madness.

If we look at a comprehensive view, we will find that the features of African surrealism in its entirety tend to be outside this visible world. There is an invisible world that strives for expression, and we have to discover it.

And African surrealists realize that nature (including human nature) generates more surrealist experiences than anything else, and review old civilizations with new eyes and recognize the possibility of magic. It reshapes the obsessions of the ancients and ignites the feeling of discomfort. 

It demystifies the collective unconscious, and surrealism creates sensual deities to track down the collapsing symbols of ancient civilizations.

As for the surrealist movement in the West, along the extensions and developments of the surrealist movement, the means of expression of ancient civilizations and even primitive peoples represented the lost paradise of the Surrealists as the antithesis of the repressive, rational civilization that captured the human, artistic and literary imagination, commoditized it, suppressed it, and curbed its desires.

Surrealism has always sided with pure and primitive life in the face of the shackles of civilization and combined the subconscious mind of nature and the subconscious mind of man so that surrealism gave a form to the mind of history and the subconscious heritage in which it condemned all forms of prisons and barracks and magically weaved nostalgia to the first transparent space where all contradictions of existence dissolve. 

It is the scream of thought that returns to itself. The Surrealists found in the mysterious East and in the corridors of African culture a haven for their burning imaginations and a starting point to deny the brutal Western civilization that stuffed in the coffins of the artificial rational logic that opens and closes the mind and crushes human thought with double-edged hammers.

. The Surrealists tended to the ancient eastern civilizations and ancient African folk rituals because they did not take the path of the Western imperial civilization that enslaved these peoples while those peoples and their imaginations lived in eternal union with the essence of things, in short, the Surrealists sided with everything that was based on the superiority of the West.

Also, the Surrealists tended to East and ancient Africa because there was the home of the wild primitive powers and the permanent home of the ancient wrestlers and the sharp contrast to European means of expression that were subject to market laws centuries ago.

We find Aragon when he belonged to the first Surrealist group and in a lecture he gave in Madrid in 1925 he says:

(Oh, money changers, students, workers, employees, you are the utility manufacturers and the necessary driver. I will never work, my hands are pure, fools don’t show me the palms of your hands, and these intellectual outcrops that you boast about, I curse the knowledge of this twin to work.


Did you happen to go down to the bottom of this black well? What did you find in it? Which vestibule leads to the sky? I only wish you a gas explosion in one of the mines that take you back to laziness, the only home for real thought).

Yes to this degree, the first Surrealist group in Paris was contemptuous of modern European civilization and the chains imposed on man by the need to curb human freedom and freedom of thought and imagination in a slave form under the name of logic, rationality, profit, competition and false social appearances.

As for the influence of the early surrealists in Africa and African culture, we find that André Breton acquired many statues, artworks, paintings, and pottery works dating back to the primitive peoples of Africa.

His library was filled with books on ancient African arts and with catalogs of those arts and books about  African poetry and literature.

Through the history of the critical, researches and historical writings of the global Surrealist movement, African Surrealism, whether organized or spontaneous, did not take its right to research and scrutinize, whether on the critical or philosophical level,  Despite the close connection between Surrealism in its entirety as life and artistic philosophy, and Africa as a culture, arts, and literature. If we examine, we will see that most of the research and academic studies on Surrealism have dealt with it as a white movement, despite the early Surrealist movement’s affinity and its tendency to African culture as a culture against the industrialized Western civilization that led to the transformation of the planet into a great prison.

Also, Dozens of  African surrealists have, since the early 1930s, actively participated in the international surrealist movement. 

They also participated regularly in the discussions and activities of Surrealist groups and their collective activities such as collaborating in books, organizing Surrealists’ exhibitions, and publicly affirming their participation in the Surrealist movement and supporting its goals and principles, Or their arts carried distinctly surrealist features through prominent poets, theorists, critics, painters, sculptors, collages, story writers, filmmakers, playwrights, dancers, etc. 

Also, there were independent writers and scholars of independent  African descent who adopted the aims and principles of Surrealism and did not integrate into the activities of the collective surrealist groups and they always fought for the absolute freedom of human imagination.

Yves Tanguy and Africa :

As for Yves Tanguy, in 1930 and 1931, after a trip to Africa, Yves Tanguy painted a series of landscapes/hills – Palais Promontoir, La Tour de Luis, L’armoire de Brotet – six or seven paintings all occupying a prominent place today. The link between the landscapes of Yves Tanguy’s early years and other compositions that came later in his artistic life was formed. The tube blocks and the dancing saw blocks within these images differed from the elements that came next in Yves Tanguy’s work, Yves Tanguy was very impressed with the formations that were  encountered him during his trip to Africa, and the rest of his life was affected by these formations

Yves Tanguy

And we go to Man Ray:

Since the beginning of the twenties of the last century, the cultures and arts of African peoples were no longer simply the ethnographic curiosities of European surrealist artists and poets, but they were mixed in densely and evidently in their artworks. Man Ray was a pioneer in this matter. Starting with his iconic image

  (Noire et blanche (cat. 1) (1926) Which has become an icon of the art of photography for many years through many works in which Man Ray was influenced by the cultures of ancient African peoples, since that time African art has acquired new meanings in conjunction with the legitimization of photography as a form of contemporary art.

And although some photographers in the interwar years had found an opportunity to incorporate African masks and figures into their modernist works inspired by the peoples of ancient Africa in new ways, Man Ray was the most prolific creator of that period with his innovative images inspired by non-Western things in general. African sculptures in particular.

The return to primitive arts was a clear phenomenon in the tendency of modernist artists since the early part of the last century, and this is due to the rapid societal transformations caused by the industrial revolution at the end of the nineteenth century in Europe and the United States. 

 That says; While the experience of modern life resulting from these changes was celebrated, on the one hand, to encourage detachment from the past and impart a greater sense of democracy, these changes were also held responsible for the inhuman quality of life that resulted from through mechanization. The feeling that the industrialized world had exhausted the creative potential of artists, including Surrealists, of course, led them to seek inspiration in artifacts from pre-industrial cultures from around the world, which were seen as unpolluted by the changes brought about by industrialization. . This artistic practice, sometimes classified as the primacy of primitive modernity, became a deeply contested artistic ground.

The tendency towards African primitive arts was a confession that  The issues of political hegemony, colonialism, and racial racism underpin the fraught relationship between “the West and the rest of the ancient peoples”.

The master surrealist photographer Man Ray also published a collection of photographs entitled (Things of the Dogon People) in 1936 alongside an article by Michel Leiris

entitled “Bois rituels des falaises.”.

In the magazine “Cahiers d d’art”, this group of images represented an amazing juxtaposition of word and image, seeing things were different. The photographer and author had known each other since the beginnings of Surrealism in the early 1920s.

, but their participation in the movement was different 

(although was fraught in both cases) and their later paths diverged sharply.

 But is their collective work was a deliberate collaboration?

This juxtaposition of the image and the text offers a unique advantage and is an opportunity to study the different ideologies derived from Surrealism that have been propagated across the pages of one journal.

This juxtaposition also proposes an examination of the theoretical history of the Dogon statues and an examination of their origin and how they came to France, where the French were obtaining objects from the African colonies since the nineteenth century, and many of these statues found their way to the Museum of Ethnography, which was built in 1878 on the hill of Trocadero.

. This museum represented the path where many avant-garde artists discovered “primitive” art in the early years of the twentieth century.

In 1928, Paul Rivet and Georges-Henri Rivière have been appointed as directors and assistants to manage the museum with a mission to modernize the museum.

Within a decade, this would include rebuilding it, but at first, the most important task was to link the museum’s function with the development of anthropology as a scientific research process, which was developing in France at a rapid pace.

But anthropology in Paris was complicated by its intersection with the artistic avant-garde of the time at the beginning of the twenties of the last century.

The fascination with the “primitive” culture and arts of the ancient peoples of Africa constituted a concerted and real challenge to the established values ​​of European culture.

The Dogon people live in present-day Mali, which in 1936 was French Sudan, and they inhabit a series of villages along the Bandiagara Pass that is 125 miles long.

Rituals are an integral part of the Dogon’s life and carved or built objects are an integral part of their culture as well, including, the most famous masks used in funeral ceremonies or memorial ceremonies.

But that’s not all. In the words of an anthropologist who recently worked in Dogon Society:

. “The term (mask) usually refers to a face covering or a head covering that conceals the natural head.

. … but for the Dogon people, the ritual consists of a person dancing in a costume containing a headpiece, and once the physical headdresses are used in the ritual dance they are discarded and left to rot unless they are collected and preserved from foreign visitors. While in the Dogon villages, the Dakar – Djibouti expedition collected information and material objects – particularly an important and representative collection of those abandoned masks.

The first African surrealist women:


As for the first African surrealist woman we can say about her that she was surrealist, she is Simone yoyotte, she was the first woman of African origins to have a surrealist activity, born in 1910 and dead in 1933 and raised in Martinique and little is known about her early life, she was the only woman in the group (the Aquatic dinosaurs /- Student Defense Group) formed by the student movement in Paris. Soon, she merged with the circles of the surrealist group in Paris. She was also a member of the General Communist Union of Students in Paris. According to the hadith of the surrealist poet Henri Pasteurio, yoyotte married her colleague Jules Giulno in Paris and died at a very young age.


Cheikh  Tidiane Sylla 

-Senegal – 

Painter, poet, and, later, architect, Sylla was born in Senegal,  West Africa, and came to the united states as a young man and settled in Milwaukee. Shortly after the 1976 World Surrealist exhibition in Chicago, he came into contact with the Surrealist Group in that city and immediately identified himself with it.  he collaborated on the surrealist issues of Paul Buhle’s  Cultural Correspondence  (1978 and 1981),  Free Spirits: Annals of the Insurgent Imagination  (1982), and the fourth issue of the Chicago Group’s journal,  Arsenal/Surrealist Subversion  (1989).  he also took part in the “Surrealism in 1982” group show in Chicago, and over the years has cosigned several surrealist declarations. after acquiring a degree in architecture, Sylla later moved to Florida, where he eventually opened his architectural firm.  in part because of the press of business, but also because of his geographical distance from his surrealist comrades, he has been less involved in the day-to-day activities of the movement in recent years. 

SurrealiSm  and  Black  African  art /

Cheikh  Tidiane Sylla. 

The surrealist aspects of the African way of life,  as well as the African implications of surrealism,  have tended to be ignored for reasons already touched on. instead of the alienating dualistic intellectualization that usually defines the headlines of European social practice,  black Africans enjoyed the presence of the practice of poetry throughout the totality of their traditional social life.  in Africa,  that is,  the living experience of surreality has since prehistoric times enjoyed supremacy over its theoretical justification.  in the  Western world,  however, surrealism is the result of a  long philosophical,  political,  scientific, and poetic struggle to recover what the traditional African has never lost. against all forms of indifference and misery,  surrealism and black African art remain irreducible examples in the development of the complete unfettering of the mind.  Surrealism and black African art show that history’s last step—the step beyond history—coincides with a  return to first principles,  which is also a  return to primordial glory,  involving nothing less than the systematic and definitive liberation of the whole of human society and of nature itself. 

Arsenal/Surrealist Subversion,  no. 4 (1989) (original emphasis)


the  Spirit  of  unity—for  freedom

Cheikh  Tidiane Sylla

 as a  surrealist painter,  my art is first to question whatever might be related to the psychic circuit of the mind:  a  question whose answer is freed from any experience already lived,  or any criteria conceived by the social elaboration of our existence.  The priority is for a  new starting point chosen out of our knowledge by any automatic impulsion to interpret the vibrations of the unconscious. if the surrealist movement has been the victim of many dismemberments in the past,  it is time now to realize the necessity and the imperative of the coherence that must animate the spirit of unity,  for the freedom of the mind,  and thereafter, of all societies. 

Arsenal/Surrealist Subversion,  no. 4 (1989)


Tchicaya U Tam’si 


in a 1970 letter from  Africa to the Chicago Surrealist Group, published in the first issue of the journal  Arsenal/Surrealist Subversion,  Ted Joans emphasizes  Africa’s “marvelous goings-on and creativeness” and adds: “a poet like  Tchicaya  u  Tam’si of Congo B. is just as seriously surreal as thee.” While still in his teens, in 1946 Tchicaya (1931–1988) went to Paris and orléans to study, escorted by his father, a deputy from what was then called the Moyen Congo.  his first book of poems,  Le mauvais sang (Bad blood) appeared in Paris in 1955, followed two years later by  Feu de brosse  (Brush fire), and by many others.  early on he was identified as a surrealist in the African art and poetry magazine  Black Orpheus.  he was also active in the vibrant political life of the time; during much of 1960, for example, he edited the daily  Le Congo. although his association with organized surrealism was tangential, reviewers—not surprisingly, because of his extraordinary imagery—frequently describe his work as surrealist.


What is Surrealism? Reading Agony with Tchicaya U’Tamsi. 

Michael C. Vazquez

“Tchicaya works with UNESCO in Paris, where he has lived since 1946 when he accompanied his father—then a deputy for Moyen Congo—there. We had two meetings, drinks and supper at a small cafe and a dinner party which he arranged for me. My first introduction to Tchicaya was through his poem ‘A Mat to Weave’ [1] which was read for criticism at the African Writers’ Conference held at Kampala in June 1962 [2]. I remember that assembly of African poets and novelists spending a baffled and almost stormy half-hour trying to analyze the opening of this poem.

He came to deliver the secret of the sun 

and wanted to write the poem of his life

why crystals in his blood

why globules in his laughter

What held up the conference was the ‘crystals’ in his blood and the ‘globules’ in his laughter which many felt were inappropriate images conjuring up visions of sluggish natural functions. One fact however was obvious. Tchicaya is not untouched by Negritude but his presentation of this doctrine is more implied than stated. There is nothing idyllic about his ancestors—to him they were warriors. His ‘race remembers the taste of bronze drunk hot’ and one suspects that his crocodiles would never be ‘scented.’ […]

Tchicaya’s flat is in a very modern block and it was a great surprise. The first thing I saw was a cherub holding a pair of candlesticks designed as scales. We sat on Louis Quinze chairs, ate off antique tables, and saw ourselves reflected in ornate mirrors of which there were many. The whole length of one wall was covered with rare editions of various French classics and Tchicaya complained that his friends are in the habit of casually taking home a precious book and just as casually forgetting to return it. I looked everywhere for a little trace of Africa and discovered behind an ancient vase a little ebony head half-hidden by manuscripts and very dusty. This was the only evidence of the people whose ‘race remembered the taste of bronze drunk hot,’ and when I asked Tchicaya why he cultivated this improbable hobby of collecting French antiques he said in his jocular way, ‘I do what the Europeans did to Africa—I plunder Europe.’

I was silenced because I have seen less rewarding ways of plundering Europe.”

Frances Ademola [3], “Comment: Tchicaya U Tam’si, Congolese Poet”, in The New African: The Radical Review [4], 3, 2, 22 February 1964, 32.

there is no better key to dreams than my name sang a bird

in a lake of blood

the sea danced alongside dressed in blue-jeans

blowing the squalling gulls to bits

From Tchicaya U Tam’si, “Agony”, in: Tchicaya U Tam’si, Selected Poems, translated by Gerald Moore, Heinemann Educational Books, 1970, 3 [5]

Silences are melodies

Heard in retrospect.

And how does one say no in thunder?

From Christopher Okigbo, “Silences (Lament of the Silent Sisters)”, in Transition [6] 8, March 1963, 16.

It seemed like a riddle, terse as a telegram, not even a comma: “Colette Omogbai a surrealist contributed Man loves what is sweet and obvious.” By turns muted and cutting, Omogbai’s allegorical manifesto patronized her patronizer, not coincidentally called Man, “whose courage fails when he is confronted with the intense version of the life.” The piece appeared in Nigeria Magazine in February 1965. By then Omogbai was already in London, living in Islington, studying at the Slade, where Ibrahim Salahi had studied a decade earlier, where the Guyanese polymath Denis Williams had taught before abandoning a bright career as one of Britain’s leading black artists to research culture and art in Africa. [7] All three of them were involved in the Mbari Club for Artists and Writers in Ibadan, Nigeria. Ulli Beier, Mbari’s co-founder, and animateur had met Salahi in Khartoum early in 1961 and came away convinced that the unknown Sudanese painter was Africa’s greatest living artist. Salahi’s first major exhibition was one of the club’s inaugural events and the occasion for one of its first publications. Omogbai’s August 1963 debut seemed equally auspicious. Beier sent photographs of her paintings to the leadership of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) in Paris, including K. A. Jelenski, proudly announcing the arrival of “a new Mbari artist.” [8]

What puzzled me was that byline, so brusquely tendered, so out of the blue; so curious. What was surrealism in 1965, that Colette Omogbai was mindful of it? [9] An earlier statement had affirmed her intention to create a language “in which mood, tension, and feeling could be represented” in “abstract interpretations” that “personified themes”—a discourse consonant, perhaps, with German expressionism, a recurring area of interest at Mbari. [10] Amid the welter of critical terms circulating in Nigeria at the time—abstraction and figure, modern and trad; Natural Synthesis, the African Personality; New Sacred Art—what work did surrealism do? What kinship was she claiming?

Chika Okeke-Agulu, whose magisterial history of Nigerian modernism played a key role in reviving attention to Omogbai, calls attention to a 1962 Nigeria Magazine article by Ulli Beier entitled “Eze: A Nigerian Surrealist Painter.” [11] But surrealism was not generally a term of endearment for Beier. In his admiring description of Uche Okeke’s “world of pure fantasy” in Contemporary Art in Africa, Beier deployed “surrealism” as a negative example, a synonym for arbitrariness. [12] Eze Okpur did not figure in the pantheon of artists Beier championed, at Mbari and elsewhere.

But there is another possible genealogy for Omogbai’s surrealism, one that takes into account the peculiarly effervescent atmosphere at Mbari—what Wole Ogundele described as a “‘thick’ kind of intertextuality (between literature, painting, sculpture, music).” [13] In November 1963, Black Orpheus featured Tchicaya U Tam’si, a Congolese writer who had published several acclaimed collections of poetry in French, but who remained almost completely unknown in the Anglophone world. [14] Gerald Moore’s long essay situated Tchicaya about Surrealism and Negritude. These associations were, perhaps, inevitable. Tchicaya’s most recent work had appeared with an introduction by Senghor himself that insisted the poet, possessed of “all the negro virtues,” had “a single passion, constantly and tumultuously observed… to bear witness to Negritude.” Moore’s essay elaborated instead on the modalities of literary surrealism, from Breton to Césaire and back—what Senghor described, conjuring Rimbaud, as a “syntax of juxtaposition that breaks the bounds of logic.” [15] Moore noted, too, an affinity between surrealist elements in Tchicaya’s verse and the “abrupt and cryptic power” of Yoruba poetry. (Elsewhere, he noted the poet’s “pagan” ambitions. [16])

The issue appeared in the months between Omogbai’s exhibition at Mbari and the publication of a portfolio of her paintings in Black Orpheus 14, February 1964. She almost certainly would have seen it.

Moore charted what he called “the strange landscape of U Tam’si’s imagination,” citing above all “the intensity with which he explores, eviscerates, rearranges his vocabulary of images,” quoting extensively from his works. The first poem he discussed in the essay concerns an obscure quest for a “key to dreams” that is indistinguishable from a nightmare. The poem was titled “Agonie.” [17]

“In contrast to the organic sculptural wholeness that characterizes much of African sculpture, Omogbai’s arrangement of forms is new and unexpected, unencumbered by tradition. Forms are pulled asunder, pierced, and severed. They startle and disturb the viewer. Like totems, the part-bird, part-animal images take on the attributes of a community and depict its sorrows. The feeling of sacrifice as a physical and psychological presence is projected by these torn parts, harsh angles, and clawlike shapes, and is reinforced by her titles: Accident, Sacrifice, Agony, Anguish, and Grief. 

Colette Omogbai rearranges the syntax of composition in the same way that some Nigerian poets rearrange the elements of verse, juxtaposing words in unexpected ways. […]Omogbai rips human and animal forms from their original context, infusing them with a sense of violation, and then fixes them in another context, one informed by the drama that is inherently psychological and poetic. Her forms become carriers that share the stigma and passion of a community. Her work is visual poetry of a searing sort.”

Jean Kennedy, New Currents, Ancient Rivers: Contemporary African Artists in a Generation of Change, Smithsonian, 1992, 50–51.

Beier first encountered Tchicaya’s work in 1961, during the same series of travels that led him to Salahi. He began translating it soon after, arranging for poems to be published in various venues, promoting the work whenever possible. Tchicaya evinced an intensity to rival that of the young Nigerian writers whose poems Beier had published in Black Orpheus, and whose first books had appeared in remarkable editions by Mbari Publications that joined contributions from writers and artists. (Christopher Okigbo’s first book, Heaven’s gate, featured drawings by Demas Nwoko. [18]) In Tchicaya, Beier had found a poet with the scabrous wit of Wole Soyinka, the vivacity of J.P. Clark, the disjointed insight of Okigbo. But also something integral—a coherence of style, vision, and ambition comparable to what he had discerned in Salahi’s paintings.

The pairing of Tchicaya and Salahi would be one of Beier’s most ingenious orchestrations. Timed to coincide with the Mbari club’s third anniversary in 1964, Brush Fire combined an English translation of Tchicaya’s 1957 text [19] with twenty-one original watercolor-and-ink drawings by Salahi, inspired by the poems themselves. [20] Beier called Brush Fire “easily the most magnificent book we have ever published.” [21] It would become one of Christopher Okigbo’s touchstones for the cycle of poems that would appear posthumously as Paths of Thunder, after the coups and the pogroms; after Biafra, and his death in September 1967, a few months into the Nigerian civil war.[22]

“The Lines In My Head,” one of the poems in Brush Fire, begins with an invocation:

we are the storm

in the heart of summer thunder leaps

on the slope of our hearts

Thunder was in the air.

It was in the air in Paris, where Tchicaya had lived since the age of fifteen, save for a brief season in Congo, three months in 1960, editing the journal of Patrice Lumumba’s political party during the short interregnum between independence and overthrow [23]. There were surrealists in Paris, still. André Breton himself was old and grey but still active; in 1961 he’d founded a new journal, La Brèche— the break—with a group of younger writers, several of them from Africa, including Joyce Mansour, a Jewish-Egyptian poet. In the fall of 1963—at the same time that Black Orpheus was introducing Tchicaya to English readers, La Brèche introduced a new surrealist voice from the USA to interested parties in French. Ted Joans was an African American poet, musician, and artist, born in Cairo, Illinois, who lived variously in Paris, New York, Tangiers, and Timbuktu.[24] La Brèche 5 featured fragments of letters from Joans to Breton, describing his journey from American Midwest to New York and beyond; his situational alliances with the abstract expressionists and the hipsters; his conviction that the white poets of the Beat Generation “owe almost everything to Surrealism,” having taken “their slang, their behavior, and jazz music” from black Americans. Joans was involved with the Chicago Surrealist Group, founded in 1966 by Franklin and Penelope Rosemont, among others, and contributed to its journal, Arsenal/Surrealist Subversion. In 1969, Joans attended the Pan-African Festival in Algiers, performing live with Archie Shepp. [25]

“Who am I? I am African-American and my name is Ted Joans. Without Surrealism, I would have been unable to survive the abject vicissitudes and racial violence that the white man of the United States imposed on me every day. Surrealism became the weapon I chose to defend myself, and it was and will always be my own way of life. […]

Today, the sun pierced over the Rif Mountains and woke me up. I read seven stanzas of Les Chants de Maldoror [26] (I do it every day); then I kissed my wife’s shoulder and looked at my new son. He was born on February 10 in Gibraltar. He came into the world agitated and alive. We called him TOR (Norse god of thunder) [27] LUMUMBA [28] (African martyr and UN beast). Tor Lumumba Joans, my son of the sun, my young black swan with blond blood. My black swan with an ancient Viking anvil planted on my back, my young rhinoceros [29] dancing kilted before the kings of Benin. Tor Lumumba, with the wheat sword of the USA in its golden beak, in full freedom towards the marvelous [30].”

Ted Joans, “Ted Joans Parle… (fragments de lettres à André Breton),” La Brèche: action surréaliste 5, October 1963, 66–67.

In June 1963, an obliquely erotic image produced by another self-authorized surrealist—a Palestinian painter who worked under her surname, Seraphim [31], coincidentally the name of a kind of six-winged angel that attend the heavenly throne—appeared in Hiwar (dialogue), a Beirut-based Arabic-language journal edited by the poet Tawfiq Sayigh [32]. Seraphim’s drawing illustrated a short story by the journalist and writer Layla Baalbaki, entitled “A Spaceship of Tenderness to the Moon.” [33] (Baalbaki’s short story collection of the same name was confiscated, the author charged with obscenity and endangering public morals.) Like Transition, Hiwar enjoyed courting controversy; it was also part of the CCF network. The magazine published nearly all of the works of the Sudanese writer Tayeb Salih, usually with illustrations by Salahi. In June 1965, Hiwar devoted an issue to Africa, featuring contributions from Beier, Moore, Senghor, Sembene, and many others, as well as a suite of poems by Patrice Lumumba. It also featured numerous pages of artwork by artists associated with the Mbari Club—Susanne Wenger, Uche Okeke, Demas Nwoko, Skunder Boghossian, and Malangatana, among others. And also, accompanying a poem by the Sierra Leonean writer Abioseh Nicol, a painting by Colette Omogbai.

“He shifted about, lifted his head tepidly, and lodged it in my neck, whispering that I was his feral cat, roaming the city streets that led to the sea, wandering in the rain through the mud and the biting cold, and coming back to him at night wet, hungry, and in search of warmth. So why couldn’t I calm down, you know, just calm down a little, relax? His breath meanders through his contented body, which lies like a child sleeping by an open window counting the stars, one after the other, without adding them lest a wart grows on his hand and remembering the story he heard before going to sleep—that angels, carrying little ones on their blue wings, fly off to heaven with them, piercing the clouds, cracking open the sky, and landing on a tree. The naked body next to me quivers.”

From Layla Baalbaki, “A Spaceship of Tenderness to the Moon”, in Hiwar 4, June 1963, 22–28; edited by Tawfiq Sayigh, translated by Maia Tabet.

it must not rain tonight

I fear the storm so much 


I understand that my congo wants to live free

free for

my teeth

to be perfumed jackals

every apple is sure when love is sad

the night will come my soul is ready

too late

the buffaloes mount the horizons

(the ant never did anything)

the black flames in their iron nostrils


the circular gallop of the ladybirds is fused with theirs 

the gallop of fire of blood of mud

mechanical buffaloes

what use is the sun to me

God only knows

it was in the rainy season

that they burnt the salt

we rubbed ourselves down with brimstone

and we felt the bronze

the bronze of physical pleasure

the fire was no further away than the earth 

there is a hope

the salt makes me tasty to myself

I shall survive the sun

the night will come my soul is ready

there are the Gabon woods

the Gabon woods burst everywhere

dam in the river of sap

it runs out of my prow even under my feet here it is I dance the voyage

I dance as one dies as one dances without recognition

I have a thousand wasps under my skin

I close my eyes I open my arms

the grass grows the grass grew

the water of the river sang

inclining the heads of the boatmen

from poop to prow

man has a topmast what a mast

what a wind what a wind

fire what a fire


From Tchicaya U Tam’si, “Erect”, in Brush Fire, translated by Sandodare Akanji, Ibadan: Mbari Publications 1964.


[1] In Brush Fire, translated by Sangodare Akanji.Ibadan: Mbari Publications 1964.

[2] The Conference of African Writers of English Expression was held at Makerere College in Kampala, Uganda from 11–17 June 1962, convened by the Mbari Club in association with the Extra-Mural Studies program at the university, which was directed by Gerald Moore. The first large-scale meeting of African creative writers on the continent, it included readings, presentations, and workshops, as well as performances of plays by Rebecca Njau and J. P. Clark.

[3] A Ghanaian journalist and broadcaster based in Nigeria, Frances Ademola was one of the founders of the Mbari Club in Ibadan, and also worked for a time out of the Transcription Centre in London, which produced the radio magazine Africa Abroad. In 1962 she edited the first anthology of Nigerian literature, Reflections: Nigerian Poetry and Prose.

[4] Based in Cape Town and then (after it and its editors were banned) in London exile, The New African was a literary-political journal “of Africa in general and South Africa in particular,” edited by Randolph Vigne, Neville Rubin, and Lewis Nkosi, designed by James Currey.

[5] Selected Poems features complete translations of Tchicaya’s poetry published in French between 1958 and 1970: À Triche-cœur (1958), Epitomé (1962), Le Ventre (1964), and Arc musical (1969). It omits his first two books, Le mauvais sang (1955) and Feu de brousse (1957).

[6] Transition was founded in 1961 by Rajat Neogy, a young Ugandan poet and editor inspired by the example of Black Orpheus. Okigbo served for a time as Transition’s West Africa editor.

[7] For an extensive account of Williams’ salad days in the UK, see Evelyn A. Williams, “Denis Williams in London, 1946–1957,” Third Text 109, 2011, 157–168.

[8] Ulli Beier to Ivan Katz, 10 October 1963. International Association for Cultural Freedom Archives, Chicago, Box 70, Folder 2. Jelenski, a Polish writer and critic, worked on visual art and Eastern European programs for the Congress for Cultural Freedom. In 1968, the erotic publisher Olympia Press published his monograph on the Argentine surrealist painter Leonor Fini.

[9] Much recent and important work has revived attention to the consistent anti-colonial politics of mainline Surrealism, and to the range and variety of surrealist activities across time and place; see Sam Bardaouil, Surrealism in Egypt: Modernism and the Art and Liberty Group, 2016; Franklin Rosemont and Robin D.G. Kelley (eds), Black, Brown, & Beige: Surrealist Writings from African and the Diaspora, 2009, and “Surrealism: Revolution Against Whiteness”, Race Traitor 9, 1998.

[10] In a book of press clippings concerning the activities of the several Mbari clubs, housed in the archives of the Transcription Centre in Austin, Texas, there is an undated news item about “The Blue Rider,” an exhibition at Mbari Ibadan that included works by Paul Klee, Franz Marc, and Alexej Jawlensky, the anonymous critic (likely Ulli Beier) emphasizes the polarizing appeal of modern art: “These paintings, which caused a storm of indignation when first exhibited, are now recognized to belong to the greatest paintings Europe has produced.”

[11] See Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria, Duke University Press 2015, 252. Okeke Agulu suggests that “Man likes what is sweet and obvious” was also in part a rejoinder to critiques of younger abstract artists like Eze and herself by more established figures, including Ben Enwonwu.

[12] “In the fantasy world of Okeke everything is possible. There are scaly creatures with flabby wings, maidens whose eyes are cowrie shells, men whose hair is feathers. Many creatures are froglike, fearsome and cold. Others have fluid, slimy plasma forms that seem to change in front of one’s eyes. But this is not a contrived world of surrealism; we feel rather that a secret door has been opened allowing us a peep into a forbidden world that has always been there, separated from us only by a thin wall.” Ulli Beier, Contemporary Art in Africa, New York: Praeger 1968, 46–47.

[13] Omoluabi: Ulli Beier, Yoruba Society, and Culture, Bayreuth: African Studies, 2004, 124. Ogundele referred in particular to a “borrowing from the other arts to broaden and deepen the literary experience,” exemplified by (among other things) “The Imprisonment of Obatala,” a poem by J.P. Clark informed by a batik painting by Susanne Wenger that had appeared in Black Orpheus.

[14] His names were subject to various spellings. The title of Moore’s Black Orpheus essay, splayed out in the journal’s distinctive sculptural font (designed by Susanne Wenger), lent the name a Russian air: TSCHIKAYA. Born Gérard-Félix Tchicaya, the author added U Tam’si to form a penname that meant “a little leaf that speaks for the nation.”

[15] Tchicaya’s first book of poems, Le mauvais sang (Bad Blood), 1955, took its name from the final chapter of Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell.

[16] “Asked in one of his own poems the nature of his destiny after death, the poet replies: ‘to be a pagan at the pagan renewal of the world…’”, Gerald Moore, introduction to Tchicaya U Tam’si: Selected Poems, vii.

[17] Moore also quoted from a poem titled “Strange Agony.” The same issue of Black Orpheus featured a Tchicaya poem called “Madness”—another Omogbaian motif.

[18] Ibadan: Mbari Publications 1962. In a paper on African poetry written for the Maker-

ere Conference, Beier celebrated the visceral quality of Okigbo’s verse: “I have said before that Heavensgate is a poem one can hear rather than see. But it is important to add that we also feel it with our skin.”

[19] The translation was credited to frequent Black Orpheus contributor Sangodare Akanji— actually Beier, in one of his several Yoruba masks.

[20] Tchicaya and Salahi were both scheduled to attend the anniversary events, but Tchichaya was unable to attend, due to illness. Salahi arrived early to participate in the summer art school session on the graphic arts run by Ru van Rossem. Confusingly, Salahi’s illustrations are uncredited in the publication.

[21] Beier to Katz, Ibid.

[22] Another touchstone was the 1959 collection of Yoruba poetry assembled by Ulli Beier and Bakare Gbadamosi. See Obi Nwakanma, Christopher Okigbo 1930–67: Thirsting for Sunlight, Boydell & Brewer, 2010, 217. In 1966, Okigbo refused the poetry prize awarded him at the World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar. While his objection was primarily a function of his longstanding dismissal of the “black mystique,” he also suggested, in a letter to his friend Sunday Anozie, that he personally believed Tchicaya to be more deserving.

[23] Tchicaya U’Tamsi’s first child is born while he is in Leopoldville; he names him Patrice.

[24] See “Ted Joans, Tricontinental Poet,” a conversation with Skip Gates, in Transition 48, 1975.

[25] Live at the Pan-African Festival LP, 1971.

[26] In Discourse on Colonialism, Aimé Césaire praised the most extreme of proto-surrealist texts, the “frenzied epic” Les Chants de Maldoror (1868), as a clear-eyed depiction of bourgeois barbarism: “Lautréamont had only to look the iron man forged by capitalist society squarely in the eye to perceive the monster, the everyday monster, his hero.”

[27] Best known in English as Thor; see also the day of the week Thursday. In August 1962, the Norse god of thunder was first reimagined as a superhero by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the comic book Journey Into Mystery, 83.

[28] Footnote in the original: “Prophet of blackness and African hope, Patrice Lumumba will undoubtedly remain a very controversial man by the whites BUT the Afro-Asian multitudes will recognize him henceforth as the martyr of their history.”

[29] As he discusses in his letters to Breton, the rhinoceros was Joans’ spirit animal and surrealist icon. Joans claimed to have written to Salvador Dali about the surrealist potential of the rhino in the early 1940s; Dali never replied. In 1951, in a lecture at the Sorbonne, Dali proclaimed his “discovery” of the animal (La Bréche, 5, October 1963, 66–67).

[30] The extra-sensical image recalls the “miraculous weapons” of Césaire’s 1946 Les Armes miraculeuses, which contained his most overtly Surrealist poems—most of which had appeared earlier in the decade in the journal Tropiques, which he edited with Suzanne Césaire in Fort de France from 1941 to 45.

[31] See Kamal Boullata, “Artists Re-Member Palestine in Beirut”, in: Journal of Palestine Studies, 32, 4, 2003, 22–38.

[32] Sayigh’s “A Few Questions I Pose to the Unicorn” was celebrated as “the strangest and most remarkable poem in the Arabic language” by Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, another Palestinian writer. Karkadann, the word translated as “unicorn,” can also refer to its Afro-Asian cousin, the rhinoceros. Sayigh was also a translator whose credits included the Arabic version of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.

[33] Baalbaki had contributed a column, “Liberated Ideas,” to the pioneering Lebanese feminist journal The Women’s Voice in the late 1950s. In the early 1950s, Tawfiq Sayigh profiled the American poet Adrienne Rich in that magazine. See Mahmoud Chreih (ed.), The Original Letters of Adrienne Rich to Tawfiq Sayigh, [Beirut] 2011.

[34] I am grateful to Nathan Suhr-Sytsma’s 2012 essay, “Christopher Okigbo, Print, and the Poetry of Postcolonial Modernity” in Research in African Literatures, for the reference to The Wasteland.



againSt  deStiny 

Tchicaya U Tam’si 

I pulled up my throat with multicolored glass

 I wished to kick chance in the pants

 my second victory

 a little pox on the brain

 and I don’t know how to save myself 

then I dreamt of returning 

to my village

 with eyes behind dark glasses

 and I had to fear my sorcerer

 I leaped the sea with my sensual insomnia

 salt fills my head 

I must arm my people

 against their destiny

 tonight to name it later in golden figures

 he earned his death long live love 


Brush-fire – Tchicaya U Tam’si

The fire the river that’s to say

the sea to drink following the sand

the feet the hands

within the heart to love

this river that lives in me repeoples me

only to you, I said around the fire

my race

it flows here and there a river

the flames are the looks

of those who brood upon it

I said to you

my race


the taste of bronze is drunk hot.

Tchicaya U Tam’si (1931 – 1988) Democratic Republic of Congo

Translated by Gerald Moore and Ulli Beier

Source: Modern poetry from Africa, selected by Gerald Moore and Ulli Beier, Penguin Books, 1963


Malangatana  Valente  Ngwenya

 Born in southern Mozambique, where his father was a migratory miner and his mother a tattooist who also sold beads and filled teeth, ngwenya (1936– ) had little schooling as a child.  at twelve he left home to seek work in Maputo.  While working there as a ball boy at a tennis club, he attended night school and began painting “furiously,” as he put it. in 1963 the Portuguese surrealist poet and painter artur do Cruzeiro Seixas, then employed at the Museum of angola, exhibited a large canvas by ngwenya at the museum.  This provocative gesture resulted in Seixas’ interrogation by the Salazarist police, but it also brought  ngwenya’s work to wide attention.  The following year, however,  ngwenya was accused of being associated with the revolutionary movement FreliMo  (Frente de libertação de Moçambique; Front for the liberation of Mozambique) and imprisoned by the colonial police for two years.  after independence, he served for four years as a FreliMo deputy and later as a member of the Maputo Municipal assembly. around this time his poetry began to appear in  Black Orpheus and other periodicals. Cofounder of the Mozambique peace movement as well as the national Museum of art, he also initiated an important cultural center in his native village, Matalana.  he has long been recognized as one of Africa’s greatest artists.  his paintings, drawings, watercolors, prints, ceramics, tapestry, and sculpture are included in museum collections throughout the world.  he has also exhibited in numerous gallery shows. in 1976 he took part in the huge  World Surrealist exhibition at the Gallery Black Swan in Chicago.  The poem reprinted here appeared in that show’s catalog,  Marvelous Freedom/Vigilance of Desire.


 Survivor  among  millions

 By : 

Malangatana  Valente  Ngwenya

 I am the survivor  among millions

 dead from lack of pure air

 they were not used to air conditioning

 or to the mine that caved in.

They  died, died without saying goodbye 

buried in this mine

 where there is no cackling of hens

 where there is nothing but men

 The lantern that blew  out left us in the dark 

when the mine exploded and the gods took advantage of us

 and demanded some glass

 beads from us and since  we had no glass 

beads we are dead dead dead. 

and me  

I sounded the alarm. 

 I survived

 I raised 

my hands without weeping or  crying for help 

and because they were my friends 

they let me survive. 

(Translated by Mary Hardy) 


Antonio Domingues

He was a good friend of the Surrealist Group in Portugal, and especially of the great painter and poet artur do Cruzeiro Seixas. Because he was also closely associated with amílcar Cabral and other radical african students, Domingues in effect served as an informal liaison between the two groups.


the influence of aimÉ  CÉSaire in Portuguese-

Speaking africa. /

Antonio Domingues.

Lisbon, 24 February 1999

Dear Franklin  Rosemont, Through our common friend Artur, do  Cruzeiro  Seixas I acknowledge your letter of  12th  January last,  and by the means I have,  it is with all pleasure that I am going to try to answer your questions. aimé  Césaire was one of the most important points of reference for some African people during the  1940s  and  50s,  such as amílcar  Cabral  (Guine); Agostinho neto  (Angola);  Mário  Pinto de andrade  (Angola);  Francisco  José Tenreiro  (S. Tomé e  Príncipe);  Alda espírito  Santo  (S. Tomé e  Príncipe);  noêmia de Sousa (Mozambique);  Antonio Domingues (Portugal). aimé  Césaire’s work  (Discourse on  Colonialism)  was translated into  Portuguese around  1950  by the poet noêmia de  Sousa,  with introductory remarks by  Mário de  Andrade. I am antonio  Domingues  (painter/poet)  and I was deeply attached to the African milieu in lisbon since the  1940s,  having lived together and taken part in many activities with all the persons mentioned above,  including amílcar Cabral, whose portrait I painted in 1952. apologizing for my poor english,  and hoping that it is at least enough to be understood, I am at your disposal for any further questions.

 With my best regards,

Antonio Domingues. 



Jean-Joseph Rabéarivelo

rabéarivelo (1901–1937), who lived his entire life on the island of Madagascar, belongs to the “accursed” tradition of Baudelaire,  Rimbaud, and Jean-Pierre Duprey.  in the course of a short and tragic life dominated, by myriad so-called practical failures, large and small, poetry was—in his view—all that mattered.  unfortunately, his seven books of poems provided little income for his far-from-prosperous family.  indeed, rabéarivelo, a victim of colonialist prejudice, never came even close to finding a way of making a living that met his hopes and expectations. instead, he devoted his idleness to the pursuit of dreams, reveries, and reckless experiments with narcotics.  at the time of his suicide, he was employed as a proofreader. his poems, however—especially those translated from the night— are a great legacy. Fittingly, he is to this day recognized as Madagascar’s finest poet.


Make no sound, do not speak:

off to explore a forest, eyes, heart,

mind, dreams . . .

Secret forest; yet you can touch this forest

with your hands.

Forest astir with stillness,

forest where the bird is gone, the bird to catch,

catch in a trap and make him sing

or make him cry.

Make him sing or make him cry

and tell the place where he was hatched.

Forest. Bird.

Secret forest, bird hidden

in your hands.

Tall Timber

. . .

But suddenly it came to me when last I slept

that the old canoe of fables

was still moored with creepers of night.

Every day it carried my childhood

from the shores of the evening to the shores of the morning,

from the headland of the moon to the headland of the sun.

The Three Birds

Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo

Translated from the French by Vivek Narayanan :

The iron bird, the bird of steel

who after having lacerated the clouds of morning

would want to puncture the stars

beyond the day,

retreats, as if in remorse,

into an artificial cave.

The corporeal bird, the feathered bird,

who forces a tunnel through the wind

to get to the moon he’s seen in a dream

among the branches

falls with the night

into a labyrinth of leaves.

And the disembodied one—he

who ravishes the custodian of the skull

with a stammering song—

opens those echoing wings

moves to pacify space

never to return except once, as an immortal.

a  purple  Star

 a purple star

 evolved in the depth of the sky— 

a flower of blood unfolding on the prairie of night evolve, evolve.

 You see nothing of her

 but her myriads of eyes 

her triangular reptile eyes, that open one by 

 one among celestial lianas.


Dennis Brutus

The South African poet in exile Dennis Brutus (born 1924) is known both as a creative artist and as a political activist opposed to apartheid.

Dennis Brutus was born in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, to South African parents. Educated at Fort Hare College and the University of the Witwatersrand, he taught for 14 years in South Africa and participated in many anti-apartheid campaigns, particularly those concerned with sports. The South African government eventually banned him from attending political and social meetings and made it illegal for any of his writings to be published in South Africa.

In 1963 he was arrested for attending a sports meeting. When released on bail, he fled to Swaziland and from there tried to make his way to Germany to meet with the world Olympic executive committee, but the Portuguese secret police at the Mozambique border handed him back to the South African security police. Realizing that no one would know of his capture, he made a desperate attempt to escape, only to be shot in the back on a Johannesburg street. On recovery, he was sentenced to 18 months of hard labor on Robben Island.

When he finished his term in prison, Brutus was permitted to leave South Africa with his wife and children on an “exit permit,” a document which made it illegal for him to return. He lived in London from 1966 to 1970, where he worked as a teacher and a journalist. In 1970 he took a position as a visiting professor of English at the University of Denver for a year, after which he moved to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He was a professor of English at Northwestern from 1971 to 1985, then took a position at the University of Pittsburgh in 1986. In 1983 Brutus was granted political asylum in the United States. During the 1970s and 1980s, he remained active in several anti-apartheid organizations, particularly SANROC (South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee), which led the movement to have South Africa excluded from the Olympic Games because of its discriminatory sports policies. He was also on the staff of the International Defense and Aid Fund. Brutus was as famous for his political activities as he was for his poetry.

There were five distinct phases in his development as a poet, each marked by formal and thematic shifts which tended not only to reflect his changing preoccupations and professional concerns but also to document profound transformations in his conception of the nature and function of poetry. Each new phase grew out of a personal experience that made him question his previous attitudes toward verbal art and seek a more satisfying outlet for his energies of articulation.

His first book of poems, Sirens, Knuckles, Boots (1963), contained a variety of lyric forms invested with many of the standard poetic conventions. This was highbrow poetry— tight, mannered, formal, and sometimes formidably difficult. Schooled in classic English verse, Brutus attempted to compose multi-leveled lyrics that would challenge the mind, poems sufficiently subtle and intricate to interest any well-educated lover of poetry. He frequently sought to achieve an ambiguous idiom that allowed him to make a political and an erotic statement in the same breath. It was during this early phase in his career that he wrote nearly all of his most complex verses.

While he was in prison Brutus decided to stop writing this kind of poetry. The five months he spent in solitary confinement caused him to reexamine his verse and his attitudes toward creative self-expression, and he resolved thereafter to write simple, unornamented poetry that ordinary people could comprehend immediately. His Letters to Martha and Other Poems from a South African Prison (1968) contains brief, laconic statements deriving from his experiences as a prisoner. The diction is deliberately conversational and devoid of poetic devices. Instead of seeking to express two or three thoughts simultaneously, Brutus was striving to say only one thing at a time and to say it directly.

After he left South Africa and began his life in exile, Brutus’ poetry changed again. This time a change appeared as a balance between the complexity of his early verse and the simplicity of his prison poems. While traveling the world as an anti-apartheid crusader, he wrote many nostalgic, plaintive lyrics recalling the beauties and terrors of his native land. This homesick verse, collected in Poems from Algiers (1970), Thoughts Abroad (1970), and A Simple Lust (1973), was more richly textured than what he had written in prison, yet he continued to aim for lucidity rather than symbolic nuances.

In the summer of 1973 Brutus visited the People’s Republic of China to attend a sports meeting. Impressed by the extreme economy of Chinese verse, he began experimenting with epigrammatic poetic forms resembling Japanese haiku and Chinese church chu, in which very little is said and much suggested. The results were brought together in a pamphlet called China Poems (1975).

Brutus’s later collections, Strains (1975), Stubborn Hope (1978), and Salutes and Censures (1980), contained poems written over years and thus in a variety of poetic idioms. But in his later verse, he appeared once again to be moving toward a balanced position, this time between the extreme density of his complex early verse and the extraordinary economy of his nearly wordless Chinese experiments. However, despite these remarkable changes in poetic posture, Brutus’s political stance never altered. He devoted his life and his art to opposing apartheid in South Africa.

Until the dissolution of the apartheid system in 1993, Brutus’ work was systematically banned in South Africa. He did manage to publish his collection, Thought Abroad under the pseudonym, John Bruin, for a short while. Until the government learned Brutus was the author, the poems were studied in South African universities. The banning of Brutus’ work was so thorough, literary critic Colin Gardner observed in Research in African Literatures, “it seems likely that many well-read South Africans, even some of those with a distinct interest in South African poetry, are wholly or largely unacquainted with his writing.”

In the late 1980s, Brutus published Airs and Tributes (1989). The end of apartheid brought a surge in creativity for South African writers, and in 1993 Brutus visited his native country for the first time since 1966.

the  Sun  on this  rubble 

The sun on this rubble 

after rain Bruised though

 we must be some easement. 

we require unarguably, though we argue against desire. 

under jackboots, our bones and spirits crunch forced into sweat-tear-sodden slush

 —now glow lipped by this sudden touch

 —sun stripped perhaps, 

our bones may later sing or spell out some malignant nemesis

 Sharpeville to spearpoints for revenging

 but now  

our pride-dumbed mouths are  wide in wordless supplication

 —are grateful for the least relief from pain

 —like the sun on this debris after rain. 

Stubborn Hope

Habib  Tengour

one of the Maghreb’s foremost postcolonial poets,  Tengour was born in 1947  in Mostaganem, in eastern  algeria, and has lived ever since in algeria and Paris.  educated as an anthropologist and sociologist, he has taught at universities in both countries.  as his Maghrebian Surrealism manifesto amply shows, humor  and playfulness are central to his work, which nonetheless reflects a larger seriousness.  This manifesto, for  example, subtly makes the point that surrealism—commonly  considered of French origin—is in truth a recent  european variant of much older Maghrebian traditions and practices.

He is the author of over fifteen books of poetry, essays, and drama, and his work has been translated into several languages, among them English, German, Italian, and Arabic,. He translates English- and Arabic-language poetry into French. He directs the series Poems of the World, published by APIC in Algiers, whose first titles were published in May 2018. In June 2016, he won the Dante European Poetry Prize. His work available in English translation includes “Exile is my Trade”: The Habib Tengour Reader, edited and translated by Pierre Joris, and Crossings, translated by Marilyn Hacker. With Pierre Joris, he edited Poems for the Millennium, Volume Four: The University of California Book of North African Literature.

At The Water’s Edge

Poem by Habib Tengour

Sea, you look at it you search for

a word

Waves strike the reefs

You move back from the edge

Don’t get your new shoes wet

Seawater ruins leather

The state of your new shoes worries you

almost as much as the word that slips away

with the foam

Your eye swallows up the wide expanse of sea

and you feel satisfied

maybe slightly uneasy on account of the spray

or cracks

You are not kitted out for a walk…

maghrebian SurrealiSm \

by Habib Tengour

 During  these  past  twenty  years,  some  Maghrebians  in  exile  have  made  an  act  of relative  Surrealism. They  could  hardly  do  otherwise:  the  family  was  an  absence they  mourned  in  front  of  a  postal  window,  homeland  a  confiscated  identity,  and religion an  i.o.u. it  is,  after  all,  in  Maghrebian  Sufism  that  surrealist  subversion  asserts  itself: pure  psychic  automatism,  mad  love,  revolt,  unanticipated  encounters,  etc. always  there  is  a  spark  of  un-conscious  Sufism  in  those  Maghrebian  writers who are not simply sharp operators—reread Kateb or Khair-eddine. Feraoun is surrealist in Si Mohand Kateb is surrealist in tradition Dib is surrealist in the  derive Senac is surrealist in the street Khair-eddine is surrealist in ethylic delirium i  am surrealist when  i  am not there Baya is not surrealist, despite Breton’s sympathy 

Translated by Myrna Bell Rochester. 




Magali Renouf.


Man Ray’s Lost and Found Photographs

 Wendy Grossman



Wendy A. Grossman


In Search of New Skin: Michel Leiris’s L’Afrique


Phyllis Clarck-Taoua


Black, Brown, & Beige

Surrealist Writings from

Africa and the Diaspora

Edited by Franklin Rosemont

and Robin D. G. Kelley




Jean Paul Sartre’s “Orphée noir”: A programmatic reading 

of Négritude

“Orphée noir” de Jean Paul Sartre: una lectura 

programática de la negritud


University of Calgary & Université de Moncton


Jean-Claude Michel

The Black Surrealists


Surrealist Women: An International Anthology

Edited with Introductions by

Penelope Rosemont


On Ethnographic Surrealism

James Clifford



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