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Dimensions:
250 × 190 mm
328 pages
Format:
Hardback
ISBN:
9781780237282
Illustrations:
134 illustrations, 121 in colour
Published:
17 Apr 2017

Exist Otherwise The Life and Works of Claude Cahun Jennifer L. Shaw

In the turmoil of the 1920s and ’30s, Claude Cahun challenged gender stereotypes with her powerful photographs, photomontages and writings: work that appears contemporary, or even ahead of our time, when viewed with twenty-first-century eyes. Cahun wrote poetry and prose for major French literary magazines, worked in avant-garde theatre, and was both comrade and critical outsider of the Surrealists. Her artful resistance tactics mocked and disrupted the Nazi occupiers of Jersey during the Second World War, putting her in mortal danger. Cahun worked collaboratively with Marcel Moore, her stepsister, lover and life partner, to create some of the most compelling photographs and photomontages of the period between the wars.

This is the first work in English to tell the full story of Claude Cahun’s art and life.It both recounts her life and analyses her complex writings and images, making them available to a wide audience. Shaw’s account embeds Cahun’s work in the exciting milieu of Paris between the wars and follows it into the dangerous territory of the Nazi-occupied Isle of Jersey. Using letters and diaries, Shaw brings Cahun’s ideas and feelings to life and contributes to our understanding of photography, Surrealism and the histories of women artists and queer culture.

This book includes a full range of illustrations by Cahun and other renowned photographers, as well as writings never before translated into English. Shaw’s book will appeal to art and photography lovers and scholars alike.

‘Claude Cahun may not be particularly well known outside the art world, but this highly readable biography of the 20th-century French writer, artist, and photographer ought to help change this situation. Jennifer L. Shaw has written a fascinating book about a gender-bending lesbian intellectual who challenged ideas of gender and sexuality in both her life and art . . . Filled with reproductions of photographs and detailed descriptions and analyses of her writings, Exist Otherwise is a comprehensive introduction to Claude Cahun’s art and writing. With any luck it will bring readers back to her unique body of work.’ – The Gay and Lesbian Review

‘In this first full biography of the pseudonymous visual artist and writer Claude Cahun, Shaw is intensely responsive to Cahun’s life and work (verbal, visual, political). In the process of examining and commenting on Cahun’s unique life, Shaw travels across time and across surrealism, Dada, a world war, and the anti-fascists and their effect on art and life in Paris, Jersey, and Germany . . . Homosexuality is an important focal point, as are the anti-fascists and the active rebellion of the modern against the traditional. Shaw writes that as an outsider woman, lesbian, and Jew, Cahun “trumpeted her role.” This book deserves a wide readership. Highly recommended.’ – Choice

‘Jennifer Shaw has written the first full biography of Cahun in English . . . The originality of Shaw’s approach lies in her situating Cahun’s work and thought within contemporary Symbolist and Surrealist aesthetic and political positions, while drawing on recent feminist theory, unlike Leperlier, who tends to bypass Cahun’s lesbianism, and unlike some recent scholarly work which, in seeking to integrate Cahun into the corpus of women artists of the late twentieth century, can risk losing sight of her historical and cultural specificity . . . This study is a richly documented and well-balanced account of a major twentieth-century artistic figure, in which Cahun’s life and work are interwoven in such a way that they illuminate each other.’ – H-France Review

‘As a Jewish, gender-nonconforming artist living amid the rise of fascism and widespread anti-Semitism, Cahun’s artwork challenged social norms of the time. The new book Exist Otherwise . . . features her photographs, sculptures, and illustrations along with diary entries and writing clips that have never before been translated in English.’ – The Cut

Exist Otherwise is elegantly written and beautifully illustrated with artwork, and includes an appendix with short, translated excerpts of Cahun’s writings . . . in Shaw’s telling, Cahun models how to practice radical art and action during politically fraught times like hers – and our own.’ – Wellesley Review

‘Jennifer Shaw has crafted mounds of archival information – including memoirs, letters, press clippings, rare books, and photographs – into a story of Claude Cahun’s life and works. Exist Otherwise: The Life and Works of Claude Cahun, a highly readable page-turner, nevertheless engages fully with the complexities that make Cahun one of the 20th century’s most intriguing artist–activists and an inspiration to today’s culture makers.’ – Tirza T. Latimer, Chair and Associate Professor, Visual and Critical Studies, California College of the Arts, San Francisco, California

‘Claude Cahun’s writings and artworks tell the story of her own critical self-discovery, and Shaw follows suit, placing the works at the center of her gripping biography of Cahun as a woman artist and lesbian who managed to “exist otherwise” long before transgender and gay rights. In the graceful flow of Shaw’s prose, Cahun’s photographic projects illuminate and amplify her life, from the French provinces to Surrealist Paris to the occupied island of Jersey, where her guerilla anti-Nazi art led to harrowing arrest and near execution. Shaw calls Cahun her hero, and convinces us that Cahun should be ours as well, in our moment of Brexit and Trump.’ – Christina Kiaer, Northwestern University

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Jennifer L. Shaw is Professor of Art History at Sonoma State University, California. Her previous books include Reading Claude Cahun’s Disavowals (2013) and Dream States: Puvis de Chavannes, Modernism and the Fantasy of France (2002).