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.
‘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
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).