Freud and Latin America at the London Freud Museum, explores the roots of psychoanalysis in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Peru. Through the work of artists, photographers, practitioners and authors, it uncovers the links between Freud’s life and Latin America. It unravels Freud’s life long fascination with the Spanish language and the dramatic impact psychoanalysis has had on the region.
The show itself includes profiles of integral early figures for the dissemination of psychoanalysis, such as Peruvian philosopher Honorio Delgado and Brazilian psychiatrist, Gastão Pereira da Silva.
There are captivating artworks by Brazilian poet and woodcut artist Jose Borges, Mexican multimedia artist Santiago Borja and Jewish surrealist photographer Grete Stern. Like Freud who fled Nazi rule in 1938, Stern left her native Germany in 1933 finally settling in Argentina.
Here I ask curator Jamie Ruers about Freud’s phenomenal hold on the region’s culture and the many enthralled creatives who spread his over the decades. I start by asking how the idea for the exhibition came about.
HG What was the inspiration for this fascinating exhibition, how did you go about gathering the intriguing material on display?
JR The exhibition came after a talk that I chaired in 2020, delivered by Mariano Ruperthuz, a Chilean psychoanalyst and historian. He had recently published a book entitled Estimado Dr Freud: una historia cultural del psicoanálisis en América Latina (Edhasa: 2017) with co-author, historian Mariano Plotkin. The book is only available in Spanish, but I found the material very wide-ranging and extremely compelling. From letters to photographs to books and dissertations published as early as the 1910s, it was eye-opening to see how early Freud’s theories were being disseminated in the region. After the lecture, I met on Zoom with both authors – Mariano Ruperthuz and Mariano Plotkin. We spoke about bringing some of this material together for what would be a thrilling exhibition.
In terms of curation, it all began with what we have in our collection at the Freud Museum. I started to search through our archives for some of the books that Latin American authors had sent to Freud during his lifetime. There turned out to be many more than I had originally believed and, once I started to find them on Freud’s bookshelves, I realised almost all of them had been inscribed with dedications of admiration for the father of psychoanalysis. This was an excellent starting point, as I would then go on to find letters at the Library of Congress in New York in their online archive, plus in national collections (e.g. Biblioteca Nacional de Chile). Some of the material was obtained by phoning up private collectors and galleries in Latin America, all of whom were extremely generous and enthusiastic about the objectives of the exhibition. The remaining aspects of the exhibition were acquired via second-hand platforms like ebay and Estante Virtual (online second-hand book sellers in Brazil). In a lot of ways, it was very sporadic but what we were able to find were treasures that brought these stories to life.
HG To what would you attribute Freud’s hold on the region? Why has his narrative penetrated culture and society to such an extent?
JR The popular reception of psychoanalysis was a convergence of many things happening all at once, and can’t be attributed to one single thing. Freud was entering medical circles (Brazil to Peru to Chile) really early on, from as early as the 1910s, medical dissertations were being written about psychoanalytic ideas, or utilised by psychiatrists to revolutionise care. Psychoanalysis was not limited to medical or academic circles, however. It was being disseminated in cheap and accessible methods that weren’t replicated in Europe in the same way. In the early 1930s in Buenos Aires, a 10-volume series of books called ‘Freud for All’ (‘Freud Al Alcance de Todos’) was a cheap publication that anyone could pick up and read. They were summaries of Freud’s key ideas (Hysteria, Sexuality, etc.) that made Freud’s ideas approachable for a general audience. There is also a suggestion that psychoanalytic reception was widely received for its ability to be applied to different aspects of life – law, education, society, sex and relationships, and culture – which were the topics of some of the earliest psychoanalytic publications in Latin America. Many of those publications still are in Freud’s personal library. These themes aren’t far-off, elusive concepts; they are tangible things that help us understand our everyday existences. As a result, it became embedded in everyday life and language.
HG There are many most unusual items on show here, intriguing objects and artworks created in the region by local creatives. What items on display stand out for you?
JR Some of the most striking things on display are seven photomontage artworks by a German-Argentine artist named Grete Stern. She was a Jewish artist who ran a graphic design business in Berlin from the late 1920s until she moved to Argentina (the native country of her husband) in 1933 upon Hitler’s rise to power. She trained in the Bauhaus school in Berlin, and her move to Argentina was synonymous with Freud’s ideas being spread throughout the region.
From 1948-1951, she was employed by a women’s magazine called Idilio in Buenos Aires. Idilio published articles specifically for women, but a regular column was featured in this magazine called ‘El Psicoanalisis le ayudará‘ or ‘Psychoanalysis will help you’. Women would be invited to write in their dreams. These would be analysed by their resident “psychoanalyst” named “Richard Rest” (a pseudonym for two psychologists, Gino Germani and Enrique Butelman). Their articles would be illustrated by these magical photomontages by Grete Stern who would depict one scene from the dream. In the exhibition, you’ll see 4 copies of Idilio, open to the page of ‘Psychoanalysis will help you’ article, featuring Grete Stern’s works, plus 7 additional artworks that are framed and hung on the wall for a closer look.
HG I saw Garcia Marquez’s name mentioned in relation to this exhibition. Was the magical realism of One Hundred Years of Solitude inspired by Freud? Were other South American creatives directly inspired by Freud?
JR That’s really interesting because we do not actually feature Garcia Marquez in the exhibition! It’s possible that his work is explored further in the exhibition programming, but for the display, we stuck quite closely to mass dissemination of Freud’s psychoanalytic ideas, mostly from his own lifetime and those he directly corresponded with. Garcia Marquez would have been quite young when Freud died in 1939 (12 years old, I believe?), but that’s no means to say that One Hundred Years of Solitude or magic realism more generally wasn’t inspired by Freud. By the time Garcia Marquez was publishing works, psychoanalysis would already have a major presence in Latin America.
There were plenty of other Latin American creatives that were inspired by Freud. The whole Latin American surrealist movement was in some way inspired by Freud. While some Surrealist artists rejected Freud – like Leonora Carrington in Mexico – other artists depicted scenes wholly inspired by Freud (I’m thinking of Remedios Varo’s Woman Leaving the Psychoanalyst).
There’s also the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, who read Freud’s works closely and whose lifetime coincided with Freud’s. Neruda and his colleague, Juan Marin, wrote a joint letter to Freud in 1938 inviting him to take refuge in Chile, upon his exile as a Jew from Austria. Freud’s reply is kind and full of thanks – we have this on display in the exhibition.
Freud and Latin America. The Freud Museum. 20 Maresfield Gardens
NW3 5SX London. 17 January 2024 to 14 July 2024