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Constructing Gender

Explore how artists examine the relationship between gender and society.


Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob), Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe)
(French, 1894–1954), (French, 1892–1972)

1922. Gelatin silver print, 9 5/16 x 5 7/8" (23.7 x 15 cm)

Born Lucy Schwob, the French photographer, sculptor, and writer adopted the gender-ambiguous name Claude Cahun in 1917. She is best known for her self-portraits in which she assumes a variety of personas, including dandy, weight lifter, aviator, and doll. In this image, Cahun has shaved her head and is dressed in men’s clothing. She once explained: “Under this mask, another mask; I will never finish removing all these faces.”1

Cahun was friends with many Surrealist artists and writers; André Breton once called her “one of the most curious spirits of our time.”2 While many male Surrealists depicted women as objects of male desire, Cahun staged images of herself that challenge the idea of static gender.

Claude Cahun, Disavowals, London 2007, p.183
Gavin James Bower, “Claude Cahun: Finding a Lost Great,” The Guardian, February 14, 2012. Available online at:

One who uses a camera or other means to produce photographs.

One who produces a three-dimensional work of art using any of a variety of means, including carving wood, chiseling stone, casting or welding metal, molding clay or wax, or assembling materials.

An artistic and literary movement led by French poet André Breton from 1924 through World War II. Drawing on the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud, the Surrealists sought to overthrow what they perceived as the oppressive rationalism of modern society by accessing the sur réalisme (superior reality) of the subconscious. In his 1924 “Surrealist Manifesto,” Breton argued for an uninhibited mode of expression derived from the mind’s involuntary mechanisms, particularly dreams, and called on artists to explore the uncharted depths of the imagination with radical new methods and visual forms. These ranged from abstract “automatic” drawings to hyper-realistic painted scenes inspired by dreams and nightmares to uncanny combinations of materials and objects.

A representation of oneself made by oneself.

Politics and Protest
Cahun was active in the resistance against the German occupation during World War II. In 1944, she and her partner Marcel Moore (née Suzanne Malherbe) were arrested by the Gestapo and sentenced to death, a fate they escaped when the war ended the following year.


AUDIO: Curator Roxana Marcoci discusses Cahun’s Untitled