« Sous ce masque, un autre masque. Je n’en finirai pas de soulever tous ces visages » Claude Cahun
“Beneath this mask is another mask. I’ll never stop removing all those faces” Claude Cahun
To judge from her literary, poetic and photographic works, it is clear that Claude Cahun was an artist of the avant-garde in many respects. Her surreal and mysterious self-portraits have been an inexhaustible inspiration for many artists of today and her cross-dressing and troubled view of her own identity were and remain a favorite subject for “gender studies”.
A multi-disciplinary artist, in the 1920s Cahun aligned herself with the surrealists, first joining literary circles and then artistic ones.Truly precocious in this time, her insatiable search for herself began then. She shaved her head, constantly wore disguises and questioned her sexuality. Endlessly ambiguous, the artist transformed herself into a man, a Buddha or even a fairy-like creature. It was through cross-dressing that she embarked on her construction process. Les Aveux non Avenus (1930), a work created by four hands (with Suzanne Malherbe known as Moore, her life partner) is a blend of writing and photography somewhere between a search for self and an indecipherable camouflage, as its opening lines demonstrate: “The objective follows the eyes, the mouth, the wrinkles in the skin. The facial expression is violent, sometimes tragic. Finally calm – the conscious, deliberate calm of acrobats. A professional smile – and there it is! The hand-mirror, rouge and eye shadow are back again. For a moment. Full stop. New paragraph. I start again. What a ridiculous little game for those who have not seen – and I haven’t shown anything – the obstacles, the chasm, the steps I’ve climbed”.
This (…) is the first of the nine illustrations comprising the anthology of Aveux non Avenus. The surrealist photomontage is a true self-portrait. The artist’s eye and mouth are immediately identifiable. Then, in the mirror, we recognize the reflection of her famous double self-portrait Que me veux-tu? [What do you want of me?] created in 1929. The presence of so many arms could be a wink at that collaborative work but it also evokes Kali, the Hindu goddess of creation and destruction. Moreover, the omnipresence of the circle symbolises the finite and the infinite, and hence the perfection of the Creator, those four letters inscribed at the top of the picture, crossed by a two-headed bird, while the pomegranate is a metaphor for fertility. This set of twin symbols refers the viewer to the man-woman dichotomy so as better to deconstruct preconceived ideas about sex.
quoted from Lot Essay
(*) The only original artwork of the 10 made by Marcel Moore is this one above for the frontispiece of Aveux non Avenus and it is in the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.
« L’objectif suit les yeux, la bouche, les rides à fleur de peau… L’expression du visage est violente, parfois tragique. Enfin calme- du calme conscient, élaboré, des acrobates. Un sourire professionnel – et voilà ! Reparaissent la glace à main, Lerouge, et la poudre aux yeux. Un temps. Un point. Alinéa. Je recommence. Mais quel manège ridicule pour ceux qui n‘ont pas vu – et je n’ai rien montré – les obstacles, les abîmes, et les degrés franchis. »
quoted from Lot Essay