Claude Cahun (25 October, 1894 – 8 December, 1954) was a French artist, photographer and writer. Her work was both political and personal, and often played with the concepts of gender and sexuality.
Born Lucy Schwob in Nantes, France she was the niece of writer Marcel Schwob and the great-niece of Orientalist David Léon Cahun. Her mother's mental problems meant that she was brought up by her maternal grandmother, Mathilde Cahun.
Around 1919, she settled on the pseudonym Claude Cahun, intentionally selecting a sexually ambiguous name, after having previously used the names Claude Courlis and Daniel Douglas. During the early twenties, she settled in Paris with her lifelong partner and stepsister Suzanne Malherbe. For the rest of their lives together, Cahun and Malherbe (who adopted the pseudonym Marcel Moore) collaborated on various written works, sculptures, and collages. She published articles and novels, notably in the periodical "Mercure de France", and befriended Henri Michaux, Pierre Morhange and Robert Desnos. Throughout her life, she worked on a series of monologues called "Heroines," which was based upon female fairy tale characters and intertwining them with witty comparisons to the contemporary image of women. In 1929, a photograph of her was published in the journal Bifur. The following year, her autobiographical essay Aveux non avenus, illustrated with photomontages, was published by Carrefour.
In 1932 she joined the Association des Ecrivains et Artistes Révolutionnaires, where she met André Breton and René Crevel. Following this, she started associating with the surrealist group, and later participated in a number of surrealist exhibitions, including the London International Surrealist Exhibition (New Burlington Gallery) and Exposition surréaliste d'Objets (Charles Ratton Gallery, Paris), both in 1936. In 1934, she published a short polemic essay, Les Paris sont Ouverts, and in 1935 took part in the founding of the left-wing group Contre Attaque, alongside André Breton and Georges Bataille.
In 1937 Cahun and Malherbe settled in Jersey. Following the outbreak of World War 2 and the German invasion, they became active as resistance fighters and propagandists. Fervently against war, the two worked extensively in producing anti-German fliers. Many were snippets from English-to-German translations of BBC reports on the Nazi's crimes and insolence, which were pasted together to create rhythmic poems and harsh criticism. The couple then dressed up and attended many German military events in Jersey, strategically placing them in soldier's pockets, on their chairs, etc. Also, fliers were inconspicuously crumpled up and thrown into cars and windows. In many ways, Cahun and Malherbe's resistance efforts were not only political but artistic actions, using their creative talents to manipulate and undermine the authority which they despised. In many ways, Cahun's life's work was focused on undermining a certain authority, however her specific resistance fighting targeted a physically dangerous threat. In 1944 they were arrested and sentenced to death, but the sentences were never carried out. However, Cahun's health never recovered from her treatment in jail, and she died in 1954.
In many ways, Cahun's life was marked by a sense of role reversal, and her public identity became a commentary upon not only her own, but the public's notions of sexuality, gender, beauty, and logic. Her adoption of a sexually ambiguous name, and her androgynous self-portraits display a revolutionary way of thinking and creating, experimenting with her audience's understanding of photography as a documentation of reality. Her poetry challenged gender roles and attacked the increasingly modern world's social and economic boundaries. Also Cahun's participation in the Parisian Surrealist movement diversified the group's artwork and ushered in new representations. Where most Surrealist artists were men, and their primary images were of women as isolated symbols of eroticism, Cahun epitomized the chameleonic and multiple possibilities of the female identity. Her photographs, writings, and general life as an artistic and political revolutionary continue to influence countless artists, namely Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin.
Cahun's collected writings were published in 2002 as Claude Cahun - Écrits (ISBN 2-85893-616-1), edited by François Leperlier.
Bibliography (French language)
- Vues et Visions (Pseudonym Claude Courlis), Mercure de France, No. 406, 16 May 1914
- La 'Salomé' d'Oscar Wilde. Le procés Billing et les 47000 pervertis du Livre noir, Mercure de France, No. 481, 1 July 1918
- Le poteau frontière (Pseudonym Daniel Douglas), La Gerbe, No. 3, December 1918
- Au plus beau des anges (Pseudonym Daniel Douglas), La Gerbe, No. 3, December 1918
- Cigarettes (Pseudonym Daniel Douglas), La Gerbe, No. 3, December 1918
- Aux Amis des livres, La Gerbe, No. 5, February 1919
- La Sorbonne en fête (Pseudonym Daniel Douglas), La Gerbe, No. 5, February 1919
- La possession du Monde, par Georges Duhamel, La Gerbe, No. 7, April 1919
- Les Gerbes (Pseudonym Daniel Douglas), La Gerbe, No. 7, April 1919
- L'amour aveugle (Pseudonym Daniel Douglas), La Gerbe, No. 12, September 1919
- La machine magique (Pseudonym Daniel Douglas), La Gerbe, No. 12, September 1919
- Mathilde Alanic. Les roses refleurissent, Le Phare de la Loire, 29 June 1919
- Le théâtre de mademoiselle, par Mathias Morhardt, Le Phare de la Loire, 20 July 1919
- Vues et Visions, mit Illustrationen von Marcel Moore, Paris: Georges Crès & Cie, 1919
- Paraboles (Pseudonym Daniel Douglas), La Gerbe, No. 17, February 1920
- Une conférence de Georges Duhamel (Pseudonym Daniel Douglas), La Gerbe, No. 19, April 1920
- Marcel Schwob, La Gerbe, No. 20, May 1920
- Héroïnes: 'Eve la trop crédule', 'Dalila, femme entre les femmes', 'La Sadique Judith', 'Hélène la rebelle', 'Sapho l'incomprise', 'Marguerite, sœur incestueuse', 'Salomé la sceptique', Mercure de France, No. 639, 1 February 1925
- Héroïnes: 'Sophie la symboliste', 'la Belle', Le Journal littéraire, No. 45, 28 February 1925
- Méditation de Mademoiselle Lucie Schwob, Philosophies, No. 5/6, March 1925
- Récits de rêve, in the special edition Les rêves, Le Disque vert, Third year, Book 4, No. 2, 1925
- Carnaval en chambre, La Ligne de cœur, Book 4, March 1926
- Ephémérides, Mercure de France, No. 685, 1 January 1927
- Au Diable, Le Plateau, No. 2, May–June 1929
- Ellis, Havelock: La Femme dans la société - I. L'Hygiene sociale, translated by Lucy Schwob, Mercure de France, 1929
- The Songs of Bilitis, translated by lucy schwob, 1930
- Aveux non avenus, illustrated by Marcel Moore, Paris: Editions du Carrefour, 30 May 1930
- Frontière Humaine, self-portrait, Bifur, No. 5, April 1930
- Protestez (AEAR), Feuille rouge, No. 2, March 1933
- Contre le fascisme Mays aussi contre l'impérialisme francais (AEAR), Feuille rouge, No. 4, May 1933
- Les Paris sont ouvert, Paris: José Corti, May 1934
- Union de lutte des intellectuels révolutionnaires, Contre-Attaque, 7 October 1935
- Prenez garde aux objets domestique, Cahier d'Art I-II, 1936
- Sous le feu des canons francais ... et alliés, Contre-Attaque, March 1936
- Dissolution de Contre-Attaque, L'Œuvre, 24 March 1936
- Exposition surréaliste d'objets, Exhibition at the Charles Ratton Gallery, Paris, 22-29 May 1936. Items listed by Claude Cahun are Un air de famille and Souris valseuses
- Il n'y a pas de liberté pour les ennemis de la liberté, 20 July 1936
- Deharme, Lise: Le Cœur de Pic, 32 illustrated with 20 photos by Claude Cahun, Paris: José Cortis, 1937
- Adhésion à la Fédération Internationale de l'Art Révolutionnaire Indépendant, Clé, No. 1, January 1939
- À bas les lettres de cachets! À bas la terreur grise! (FIARI), June 1939
Bibliography (English language)
- Laurie J. Monahan, "Radical Transformations: Claude Cahun and the Masquerade of Womanliness". In: Catherine de Zegher (ed.), Inside the Visible, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston & MIT Press, 1996.
- Claude Cahun, Tacinta Dean and Virginia Nimarkoh: Mise-En-Scene: Institute for Contemporary Arts: London: 1996: ISBN 0-905263-59-6
- Shelley Rice:Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren and Cindy Sherman: Cambridge: Massachuesetts: MIT Press: 1999: ISBN 0-262-68106-4
- 'Playing a Part: The Story of Claude Cahun,' drama documentary film by Lizzie Thynne, Brighton: Sussex University, 2004. Available from email@example.com.
- Louise Downie: Don't Kiss Me: The Art of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore: London: Aperture: 2006: ISBN 1-85437-679-9
- International Surrealist Exhibition, London - June–July 1936
- Mise en Scene - Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), London - 13 October to 27 November 1994
- Claude Cahun : photographe : Claude Cahun 1894-1954 - Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris - 23 June to 17 September 1995
- Neue Museum, Graz, Austria - 4 October to 3 December 1997
- Fotografische Sammlung, Museum Folkwang Essen, Germany - 18 January - 8 March 1998
- Don't Kiss Me - Disruptions of the Self in the Work of Claude Cahun - Presentation House Gallery, North Vancouver, Canada - 7 November to 20 December 1998
- Don't Kiss Me - Disruptions of the Self in the Work of Claude Cahun - Art Gallery of Ontario, Ontario, Canada - 8 May to 18 July 1999
- Inverted Odysseys - Grey Art Gallery, New York, USA - 16 November 1999 to 29 January 2000
- Surrealism: Desire Unbound - Tate Modern, London - 20 September 2001 to 1 January 2002
- Claude Cahun - Retrospective - IVAM, Valencia, Spain - 8 November 2001 to 20 January 2002
- I am in training - don't kiss me - New York, USA - May 2004
- Acting Out: Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore - The Judah L. Magnes Museum - 4 April - July 2005
- Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, ME, USA - September to October 2005
- Jersey Museum - November 2005 to January 2006
- Claude Cahun, "Je est une autre" in PURPOSE #7 (photographic webmag)
- De l'Éros des femmes surréalistes et de Claude Cahun en particulier by Georgina M.M. Colvile
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