Today, the Google Doodle honors Claude Cahun, a surrealist photographer and writer from France whose work challenged gender and sexuality norms in the early twentieth century. Cahun was born on this day in 1894 in Nantes, western France, to a Jewish family. He was the son of newspaper entrepreneurs Maurice Schwob and Victorine Marie Courbebaisse. Maurice’s brother, avant-garde novelist Marcel Schwob, and his uncle, tourist and author David Léon Cahun, helped the artist (born Lucy Schwob) grow up surrounded by imaginative individuals.
According to Google, the artist decided to see himself as non-binary, even though gender non-conformity was considered taboo in France at the time. Around 1915, Cahun began cutting their hair short and photographing themselves against a neutral background, dressed as a sailor, a sportsman, a dandy, or men’s suits. According to the Paris-based Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions, the artist changed their name in 1917. (AWARE)
According to the repository, Cahun’s cross-dressing self-images have become themes of interest for gender study and post-modernist theory. Cahun is described as “an innovative chameleon” who became “keenly attuned to the quintessentially cutting-edge situation of self-alienation” by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
In 1909, Cahun met Marcel Moore (previously Suzanne Malherbe), who would become their lifelong companion and colleague. According to the National Portrait Gallery in the United Kingdom, the duo became “stepsisters” about a decade later, when Cahun’s father married Moore’s widowed mother. In 1914, the pair went to Paris, where they began their creative endeavors.
Through literature and self-images, Cahun’s works explored gender fluidity. The artist was portrayed as a gendered weightlifter, harsh masculine and female stereotypes in their 1927 picture graph series “I am in training, do not kiss me.” Cahun is well-known today for his self-portraits, yet the artist saw himself primarily as a writer, according to the National Portrait Gallery. Cahun published Aveux non-avenues (Disavowals) in 1930, which became an “anti-memoir” that included 10 photomontages developed with Moore.
Cahun and Moore settled in Jersey, one of the Channel Islands shared by the United Kingdom and France, in 1937. According to the exhibition, they later became actively involved in the resistance movement against the island’s Nazi occupation. In July 1944, the couple was imprisoned for producing anti-Nazi propaganda. They were sentenced to death and imprisoned for nearly a year before Jersey’s liberation in May 1945.
In 1951, Cahun was awarded the Medal of French Gratitude for his or her resistance paintings during the Second World War. Moore died in 1972, 18 years after the artist died in 1954. Cahun’s self-portraits were largely forgotten after WWII, but their work was rediscovered and widely shared in the 1990s, according to AWARE.
Kim, S. (2021, October 25). Google Doodle Celebrates Claude Cahun, the French Surrealist Photographer. Newsweek.