A Woman to Know: Claude Cahun

Under this mask, another mask. I will never be finished removing all these faces. — Claude

(image via Southbank Centre)


Entire decades before Cindy Sherman, Maya Geren and other gender-bending photographers, Claude Cahun snapped hundreds self-portraits that experimented with androgyny and gender ambiguity. Her lover and long-time collaborator (and former stepsister) Marcel Moore catalogued hundreds of these projects, documenting Claude's own experiments with surrealism, sexuality and the avant-garde.

Marcel and Claude moved to the Jersey Islands at the start of World War II, but as two Jewish women living together on the island, they weren't safe from the encroaching Nazi forces. Once Germans occupied their small channel island, Claude began printing thousands of anti-Nazi leaflets, each inscribed with a political poem and signed "from the Soldier With No Name." She slipped these poems into army vehicles, jacket pockets and Nazi party meeting agendas.

In 1944 she and Marcel were discovered -- and sentenced to death. The Allies intervened just in time, liberating the island and ending the war before their execution. There's a great photo of Claude,another self-portrait again, dated on the day of her release. She's standing in the shadow of her doorway, gripping a Nazi badge between her teeth.

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*~Thank you to Ashira Morris for recommending Claude as a woman to know! Ashira and my friend Kate PM host Adulting, a podcast about grown-up stories from non-grown-ups (at least, not-yet-grown-ups). Listen here! ~*

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