Claude Cahun was a French artist who lived from 1894-1954. Cahun studied at the University of Paris, Sorbonne. Born Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob, Cahun assumed the moniker in 1919 around the same time she settled in Paris with her lifelong partner Suzanne Malherbe (who also happened to be her step-sibling!) who also used an alternate name, going by Marcel Moore. Both Cahun and Moore were artists, writers and activists, and the two often collaborated on writings, photomontages, and sculptures.
Cahun is best known for her Surreal, highly-stylized self-portraits, collages, and her writings on gender. Though Cahun possibly identified with no gender, also known as agender, female pronouns were used both by the artist and critics. Throughout the artist’s life, Cahun presented in both feminine and masculine ways and explored the fluidity of gender, gender as a form of masquerade, creating works based around identity that continue to resonate today.
Cahun worked at the same time as other famous Surrealist artists, with her contemporaries including Man Ray, Salvador Dalí and André Breton. 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 genders and of the body. 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.
In addition to being artists, both Cahun and Moore actively works as resistance activists who were very much against war and created anti-German and anti-Nazi fliers. They would spread their fliers by dressing up as soldiers and attending rallies where they would then slip fliers into pockets or open car windows in order to spread their message.
Here are some additional links to (fairly) recent articles about Claude Cahun: