France 1894 – Great Britain 1954
France 1892 – Jersey, Great Britain 1972
Photomontage for frontispiece for Aveux non avenus (unavowed confessions)
1929-30 gelatin silver photographs, offset lithography, gouache, pencil gelatin silver photographs, offset lithography, gouache, pencil
printed image 51.9 h x 35.1 w cm
Accession No: NGA 93.477
A writer, photographer and activist associated with left-wing Surrealists in France in the 1930s, Claude Cahun was the pseudonym of Lucy Schwob. In collaboration with her step-sister and lifelong partner Suzanne Malherbe, who adopted the name Marcel Moore, Cahun made written works, sculptures and collages that often explore gender identity. Cahun’s autobiographical essay, Aveux non avenus [Unavowed confessions], was published in Paris in 1930. This is the original artwork made by Cahun and Moore for the frontispiece.
Cahun appears in enigmatic guises, playing out different personas using masks and mirrors, and featuring androgynous shaven or close-cropped hair—as can be seen in the multiple views of her in the lower left-hand side of this collage. The image also includes symbols made up by the women to represent themselves—the eye for Moore, the artist, and the mouth for Cahun, the writer and actor. Whereas the majority of Surrealists were men, in whose images women appear as eroticised objects, Cahun’s androgynous self-portraits explore female identity as constructed, multifaceted, and ultimately as having a nihilistic absence at the core. Cahun writes: ‘Beneath this mask, another mask. I will never be finished lifting off all these faces.’
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008
Cahun’s autobiographical essay Aveux non avenus, brought together dream, memory, fiction and aphorisms. This collage, made in collaboration with Moore, is the only original artwork for the images in the book to survive and shows Cahun adopting enigmatic guises in which the body is fragmented and mirrored. She worked with the Surrealists in the 1930s and whereas the majority of them were men, in whose work women appear as eroticised objects, Cahun’s androgynous self-portraits explore female identity as constructed and multifaceted. She was greatly admired by André Breton who considered her ‘one of the most curious spirits (among four or five) of our times’.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra