Remedios Varo: The alchemy of art in exile

Remedios Varo was exiled from her native country of Spain. Having moved to Paris, France in pursuit of a lover and being associated with leftist political thinkers, she found the border closed to her return during the Spanish Civil War.

When World War II broke out, she found herself fleeing Nazi persecution aided by the resources of the intellectually powerful Surrealist artists. Her second exile was one of uncertainty, fear, and physical strain. Varo was accepted into Mexico as a political refugee.

The experience of immigration is one of redefinition. The context of identity shifts from being founded in shared community structures, such as religion, language, and diet, and is no longer stable. The destabilization of this relationship demands the individual to generate a new understanding of a self in the world.

How does the experience of immigration compare to one of exile? The motivation to immigrate may be instigated by causes ranging from the need to survive, or the desire to explore. Immigration has both an element of necessity and choice. Exile is immigration enforced by a dominant group. The community has met and decided who should be allowed to participate in its society, and those who are exiled are not welcome within the cultural climate. Examples of exile include religion, politics, sexuality, etc.

Having been twice exiled, Remedios Varo was challenged to recapitulate her conception of self three times: as a Spaniard, an ex-patriot in Paris, and an intellectual refugee in Mexico. Her process of individuation is paralleled by the alchemical pursuit of the philosopher’s stone, the Self. Symbolic stages in Varo’s life are juxtaposed with her artistic expression. As she experiences exile and the reconfiguration of her identity, she is also composing pieces of artwork that represent the symbolic function of her journey.[Excerpt from lager piece]

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