Claude Cahun: Beneath this mask

Photographer Claude Cahun (1894-1954) is known for her ambiguous photographic self-portraits. Decades ahead of its time, her work played with perceived gender roles and identity – concerns that continue to resonate all the more in the 21st century.

Cahun began the photographic work that she is best known for: a series of theatrical tableaus which see the artist blur and distort her identity, gender, age and surroundings in order to assume different personas. These photographs can be read as a kind of anti-portraiture: while portraiture sets out to capture and commemorate an individual, Cahun’s photographs disrupt the notion of a single coherent ‘self’. Instead, they create the space for a more complex, nuanced and fluid image of an individual to be revealed.

Largely unknown during her own lifetime, Cahun’s photographs anticipate the work of contemporary artists such as Iris Gunnarsdottir, whom we are also showing at Art Exchange.

A Hayward Touring exhibition from Southbank Centre, London, Beneath This Mask is drawn from the Claude Cahun Archive at Jersey Heritage.

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