Monday, 2 June 2014

Claude Cahun

"Their story speaks to the hidden power of art and the gifts we receive from those considered marginal by the dominant culture." (Libby Cone)
For my blog today, I thought I'd share an information sheet about one of the people whom I admire greatly for their dogged and clever resistance campaign during the German Occupation of Jersey.
While Attorney-General Duret-Aubin was forwarding anonymous letters denouncing islanders to the Germans, and Aliens Officer Clifford Orange was zealously supplying Germans with lists of Jewish people, Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore were waging a secret propaganda campaign to undermine the morale of the German troops.
Claude Cahun
Claude Cahun (25 October 1894 - 8 December 1954) was a French artist, photographer and writer. Her work was both political and personal, and often played with the concepts of gender and sexuality.
Born Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob in Nantes, she was the niece of an avant-garde writer Marcel Schwob and the great-niece of Orientalist David Leon Cahun. Her mothers mental problems meant that she was brought up by her paternal grandmother, Mathilde Cahun.
She began making photographic self-portraits as early as 1912, when she was 18 years old, and she continued taking images of herself through the 1930s.
Around 1919, she settled on the pseudonym Claude Cahun. During the early 20s, she settled in Paris with her lifelong partner and stepsister Suzanne Malherbe. For the rest of their lives together, Cahun and Malherbe (who adopted the pseudonym "Marcel Moore") collaborated on various written works, sculptures, photomontages and collages. She published articles and novels, notably in the periodical "Mercure de France", and befriended Henri Michaux, Pierre Morhange and Robert Desnos.
Cahun's work encompassed writing, photography, and theater. She is most remembered for her highly-staged self portraits and tableaux that incorporated the visual aesthetics of Surrealism.
Her published writings include "Heroines," (1925) a series of monologues based upon female fairy tale characters and intertwining them with witty comparisons to the contemporary image of women: Aveux non avenus, (Carrefour, 1930) a book of essays and recorded dreams illustrated with photomontages; and several essays in magazines and journals.
In 1994 the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London held an exhibition of Cahun's photographic self-portraits from 1927-47, alongside the work of two young contemporary British artists, Virginia Nimarkoh and Tacita Dean, entitled Mise en Scene. In the surrealist self-portraits, Cahun represented herself as a dandy, skinhead and androgyne, nymph, model and soldier.
In 1937 Cahun and Malherbe settled in Jersey.
Following the fall of France and the German occupation of Jersey and the other Channel Islands, they became active as resistance workers and propagandists. Fervently against war, the two worked extensively in producing anti-German fliers.
Many were snippets from English-to-German translations of BBC reports on the Nazis' crimes and insolence, which were pasted together to create rhythmic poems and harsh criticism. The couple then dressed up and attended many German military events in Jersey, strategically placing them in soldiers pockets, on their chairs, etc. Also, fliers were inconspicuously crumpled up and thrown into cars and windows. They were aware of the danger and eventually in 1944 they were arrested and sentenced to death, but the sentences were never carried out.
However, Cahun's health never recovered from her treatment in jail, and she died in 1954. She is buried in St Brelade's Church with her partner Suzanne Malherbe.
It is the policy of St Brelade's Church to welcome all denominations and the Jewish Star of David is clearly displayed on their gravestone, which can be found alongside the boundary wall south west of the Fisherman's Chapel. The grave is approximately half-way along the wall.

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