Decorate Your House or Garden Competition - Surreal Theme      


£300 First Prize / £150 Second Prize / £75 Third Prize    


Balsall Heath has an unlikely history of Surrealism, with English surrealist Conroy Maddox living in the area during the late 1940s and early 1950s.The ‘Decorate Your House Competition: Surreal Theme’ was open to anyone in Balsall Heath and judged by Dr Stephen Forcer, a specialist in Surrealism from Birmingham University.

Despite the large cash prizes on offer, there were only five entries to the competition, but fortunately three of these were high-quality and formed a surreal house trail across the local area. We felt the cash incentive would be a good way of ensuring ‘engagement’ but this wasn’t the case. All of the entries were of a similar demographic to ourselves - white, middle-class, into ‘culture’. Talking to one of the entrants, they said that their Muslim neighbours had wanted to enter but felt barred from doing so as they interpreted the cash prizes as ‘gambling’ (within Islam gambling is forbidden).

There was also the question of whether surrealism was something only recognised by Western cultures? Indeed, Dr Saskia Warren & Dr Stephen Forcer have recently been successful in securing funding from the Communities and Culture Network+ to conduct research on the Birmingham Surrealist Group in Balsall Heath and whether surrealism is culturally coded. Building upon the platform and networks established by the ‘Decorate Your House Competition: Surreal Theme’, the research will investigate cultural, religious, linguistic and educational barriers to engagement, and the translation of humour within the context of Balsall Heath.

First Prize: The Surrealist Garden


'This entry stood out as the sort of construction that Maddox and other Surrealists might actually have made themselves, re-using a variety of objects to refer to Surrealist symbols and history, and drawing attention to itself even while it raises the question 'What on earth is going on here?' It looks - and is - bizarre, but the entry really coheres with itself without trying too hard, and there is a great deal going on in it. We also liked the air of Paganism that it brought to a suburban house.'


Joint Second Prize: The Maddox House (The Surrealist Leg), and the Dali House (clock, ants, lobster)


'Two brilliantly playful and well executed entries, based on artwork by Maddox and Dali respectively. Both houses had people doing double-takes and stopping to stare, and it was impossible to separate the two. Maddox would surely have approved of the sense of fun, unexpectedness and unreal scale that they bring to each house.'


Dr Stephen Forcer. 

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