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Claude Cahun

Updated: Jun 25, 2019

Artist 139 Claude Cahun Gender Identity Surrealism Photography

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) was a French photographer, sculptor and writer. Given the birth name Lucie Renee Mathilde Schwob Cahun choose the gender-ambiguous name Claude Cahun in 1917 and is best known for self portraits, in which they assumed a variety of personae. Cahun’s work was often a collaboration with the artist Marcel Moore (their life partner).

Cahun's work was both political and personal, and often undermined traditional concepts of static gender roles.

In their autobiography, Disavowals, they explained, “Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.”

Cahun's works encompassed writing, photography, and theatre. They are most remembered for

their highly staged self-portraits and tableaux that incorporated the visual aesthetics of Surrealism.

During the 1920s Cahun produced an astonishing number of self-portraits in various guises such as aviator, dandy, doll, body builder, vamp and vampire, angel, and

Japanese puppet.

Many of Cahun's portraits feature the artist looking directly at the viewer, head shaved, often revealing only head and shoulders (eliminating body from the view), and a blurring of gender indicators and behaviors which serve to undermine the patriarchal gaze.

With the majority of the photographs attributed to Cahun coming from a personal collection, not one meant for public display, it has been proposed that these personal photographs allowed for Cahun to experiment with gender presentation and the role of the viewer to a greater degree.

David Bowe organized a show for them in 200

7 and was quoted saying, “You could call her transgressive or you could call her a cross dressing Man Ray with surrealist tendencies. I find this work really quite mad, in the nicest way. Outside of France and now the UK she has not had the kind of recognition that, as a founding follower, friend and worker of the original surrealist movement, she surely deserves."

They were a fascinating artist who tackled the mask of what gender identity was in the early 1900s.


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