Claude Cahun: La Beauté Convulsive

Claude Cahun's self portrait

Claude Cahun… photographer, poet, surrealist, novelist, “constructor and explorer of objects”, heroic resistance fighter, jewish lesbian. Born in Nantes France in 1894 as Lucy Schwob, she took the alias - Claude Cahun early in life. Cahun’s eccentric self-portrait photographs probed her mysterious identity… at once androgynous and genderless but also aggressively sexual. In the famous 1928 self-portrait shown here, Cahun displayed a startling non-conformity that was truly ahead of its time. She looks like one of the denizens of the original Los Angeles punk scene I was part of in 1977.

With war on the horizon in 1938, Cahun and her lifetime companion, Suzanne Malherbe, left Paris for the Isle of Jersey off the coast of France. After the Nazis invaded the island in 1940, the couple mounted an unyielding resistance. They self-published illustrated flyers in colored inks on tonal papers… flyers that were poetic denunciations of fascism. Written in German, the leaflets were brazenly distributed where the occupation troops would find them. The Nazis apprehended the pair in 1944 and sentenced them to death. Cahun wrote from prison, “We’re essentially against nationalisms, separatisms… that is, against war.” The fascists were prevented from murdering the artists when the island was liberated in 1945. Cahun continued working as a photographer until her death in 1954. Read more about Claude Cahun.

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