Indecent Obsession: Claude Cahun

Claude Cahun is an artistic and political hero of mine, creating dozens of stunning and often surreal self-portraits (see above), photo montages and other artworks, running salons, writing essays and so on. She was a gender-bender too, says Wiki:

‘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’

On top of all this, she and her partner (who was also her step sister) were also anti-war workers, and Wiki tells us:

‘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 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. She is buried in St Brelade’s Church with her partner Suzanne Malherbe (who was also known by the pseudonym Marcel Moore).’

I think I need to make a pilgrimage. But for now, I will content myself with the odd small homage (note to self, next time use laundry marker — this shirt didn’t really last the first few hours of clubbing)…

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About Madame Moselle

Freelance provocateur. Enthusiastic optimist. Dancing bear. Believer. Facilitator of perversion. Disseminator. Libertine. Moth and flame. Rouser of rabble. Stirrer of pots. Bowerbird. Public spectacle.
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