The Google Doodle for today honors Claude Cahun, a French surrealist photographer and writer whose work in the early twentieth century defied gender and sexuality norms.
Cahun was born to a Jewish family in Nantes, western France, on this day in 1894. His parents were newspaper proprietors Maurice Schwob and Victorine Marie Courbebaisse. Maurice (born Lucy Schwob) grew up in a family of artists: his brother, avant-garde writer Marcel Schwob, and his uncle, traveler and writer David Léon Cahun, were both artists.
Despite gender non-conformity being banned in France at the time, the artist chose to identify as non-binary, according to Google.
Cahun began taking self-portraits on a neutral background, dressed as a sailor, a sportsman, a dandy, or in a men’s suit, around 1915. According to the Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions in Paris, the artist changed their identity in 1917. (AWARE).
According to the repository, Cahun’s cross-dressing self-portraits have since become themes of interest for gender studies and post-modernist theory.
Cahun was described as a “creative chameleon” who was “keenly attuned to the fundamentally modern situation of self-alienation” by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
In 1909, Cahun met Marcel Moore (then Suzanne Malherbe), who would become their longtime partner 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 collaborating on art.
Through literature and self-portraits, Cahun’s work explored gender fluidity. The artist was portrayed as a gendered weightlifter in their 1927 photo series “I am in training, don’t kiss me,” questioning masculine and feminine preconceptions.
A birthday #GoogleDoodle for a revolutionary artist far ahead of their time: French author & surrealist self-portrait photographer Claude Cahun 🇫🇷— Google Doodles (@GoogleDoodles) October 25, 2021
Cahun challenged the gender norms of the early 20th-century through art & literature 🖼
Learn more → https://t.co/zB4GNUHr5j pic.twitter.com/SGGYhy8Ghw
Cahun is most known today for these self-portraits, although according to the National Portrait Gallery, the artist viewed himself as primarily a writer. Cahun released Aveux nonavenues (Disavowals) in 1930, which was an “anti-memoir” that included ten photomontages developed with Moore.
Cahun and Moore moved to Jersey, one of the Channel Islands between the United Kingdom and France, in 1937. According to the museum, they later became active in the resistance struggle against the Nazi takeover of the island.
In July 1944, the couple was imprisoned for producing anti-Nazi propaganda. Before Jersey was liberated in May 1945, they were sentenced to death and imprisoned for nearly a year.
In 1951, Cahun was given the Medal of French Gratitude for their resistance work during WWII. Moore died in 1972, 18 years after the artist died in 1954.
Cahun’s self-portraits were lost after WWII, but they were rediscovered and widely shared in the 1990s, according to AWARE.
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