This summer I visited a Museum of Photography in Paris, France called the “Jeu de Paume” to see the photographs of queer artist Claude Cahun (neé Lucy Schwob). Known for her sexually ambiguous self portraits, I was honored to learn more about her life, art and activist activities. I know she will be a great inspiration to my students so I am sharing the above video as well as the article below as a sneak preview to future class discussion! If you find yourself in Paris – her works are on view through Sept 29, 2011 and at some point will travel to the Chicago Art Institute. -Erika
This summer, Paris’s Jeu de Paume brings to light the works of Claude Cahun, queer artist, anti-war activist, surrealist, and muse. Walking through the softly lit galleries lined with her intimate photographs feels exceptional, as though the mere existence of such a show is a challenge to the heavy hand of history.
A good number of Cahun’s works were destroyed by the Nazis in the 1940s. Cahun (neé Lucy Schwob) and her partner and collaborator, Marcel Moore (neé Suzanne Malherbe), were arrested by the Gestapo and sentenced to death for spreading anti-war propaganda in 1944, during the occupation of France. Their sentences were commuted in the eleventh hour.
A published writer and woman of letters, Cahun’s writing is displayed alongside her black and white exhibition prints. Cahun makes it clear that she faced an equally monolithic adversary in the uncompromising mores of society (a letter to Paul Levy: “upholding certain values, including freedom of expression? and with that not only maintaining but winning new moral freedoms, the rights of the human being repressed by centuries of ferocious superstitions.”) Working in collaboration with Moore, Cahun frequently photographed herself, offering a broad investigation of gender, sexuality, and the representation of the female nude in art. With her hair cropped short or dyed with gold, she gives long stares into the camera lens, snapping the shutter in poses that stretch between feminine and masculine, brutish and coy.
For Cahun the photograph, like gender itself, is a construct, a façade above reality that leads us to subjugation and delineation. Rather than questioning the origins of these constructions, Cahun opts to expose them, and our reliance on their solubility. The thin reality of the photograph is further tested through Cahun’s use of mirrors, masks, double exposures, and symmetrical landscapes that fold in on themselves. Read The Entire Article