Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum

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Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob). M.R.M (Sex). c. 1929-30

Gelatin silver print, 6 × 4" (15.2 × 10.2 cm). Gift of Helen Kornblum in honor of Roxana Marcoci

Juliet Jacques: I'm Juliet Jacques. I am a writer and filmmaker based in London. You're looking at a photomontage by the French artist Claude Cahun, entitled M.R.M (Sex). It's a photomontage of Cahun's self-portraits.

Claude Cahun was born in 1894 in France into a family of prominent Jewish intellectuals and began making photomontages in 1912 when she was 18. The works were often exploring Cahun's own identity in terms of gender and sexuality, but also this sense of a complex and fragmented personhood. Nonbinary pronouns, as we'd understand them now, weren't officially in existence in the 1920s. Cahun actually wrote "Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me." So, I think either she or they is appropriate.

M.R.M was published as one of the illustrations in Cahun's book Aveux non Avenus in 1930. Throughout the book you see this playing with the possibilities of gender expression that are kind of funny, sometimes melancholic, but are very emotionally complicated and do really speak to a sense of sometimes being trapped by the confines of gender and sometimes finding these very playful and beautiful ways to break out of it.

Artists and writers, we're supposed to be dreamers, I think, and people who want to come up with a better world. And of course Cahun's work is really suggesting different possibilities of free expression.

It's hard to know how Cahun might have felt about being included in an exhibition of women artists. But, I think Cahun definitely deserves a place within this feminist canon, if not a strictly female one.