Journal of Surrealism and the Americas, Vol 7, No 1 (2013)

The Opposite of Snake: Surrealism and the Art of Jimmie Durham

Mary Modeen


Twenty years ago, Cherokee artist Jimmie Durham described idea of “opposites” from a child’s point of view. For him, the normative take on opposites is laughably irrelevant to his childhood self, who conceived of “birds as the opposite of snakes.” His witty anecdote moves the terms of understanding away from conventional opposition, by stepping outside mainstream assumptions. Without opposites, for example, iconic images may be more fluid and simultaneous, dream-like and less fixed to singular pre-determined interpretation. So, too, the prose poems of Lautréamont and the visual and literary works of the Surrealist avant –garde employed startling juxtapositions that defied rational understanding and challenged conventional assumptions. “Outsider” status was preferable to “insider” here thanks to the power of idiosyncratic symbols and the appeal to a richer hermeneutic. Durham’s “search for virginity” in terms that reject the notion that authenticity and dishonesty are polar oppositions reprises the artistic practice of many Surrealists.

Full Text: PDF