Women Who Changed the World: Claude Cahun

Welcome to the third installment of our March mini-series on women who changed the world with their creativity. This week, we'd like you to meet one of our favourite artists, Claude Cahun. 

“My opinion on homosexuality and homosexuals is exactly the same as my opinion on heterosexuality and on heterosexuals: everything depends on the individuals and on the circumstances. I uphold people’s rights to behave as they wish.” 

Revealing whichever persona she felt like exploring, Claude Cahun’s self-portrait photographs challenged gender norms in early twentieth century Europe. In one image, she appears bald-headed, steely-eyed and suited. In another, she contorts limbs and tumbles from a cabinet full of homewares like a doll.

Relocating to the Channel Islands just before the second world war, Cahun instigated a resistance movement against the Nazi invasion, working alongside her lifelong partner Marcel Moore. As the pair repeatedly placed anti-fascist leaflets in coat pockets and on table tops, the occupying soldiers became convinced that a secret resistance group was operating on the island. Eventually they were sentenced to death for their characteristically subversive, artistic and defiant act.

Though the order was never carried out, their art was destroyed. Today they share a plot at St Brelade’s church in Jersey—entwined beneath the ground upon which they raised hell.

More information about Claude's extraordinary life can be found in Claude Cahun: Disavowals by Claude Cahun. Our extended selection of female muses to learn about and love features in Issue 29, alongside Cristina BanBan's beautiful illustrations. Inside, we also pluck pennies from pavements, watch caterpillars burst from cocoons, and talk personal turning points. Get your hands on a copy here!

Illustration: Cristina BanBan