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Happy Birthday to Claude Cahun, a Nonbinary Queer Legend

In 2016, I landed at MacDowell, an artist’s residency in New Hampshire. There, I would meet writers, visual artists, conceptual artists, dancers, architects–people from all walks of life, all ages, and all kinds of artistic backgrounds. The way the residency is set up is by turns wrenchingly painful and exciting: since everyone arrives at different times, everyone leaves at different times, creating a complex revolving door of fast, intense friendships that end as quickly as they begin. Some of those friendships, fortunately, last into the real world. I would eventually fall in love with all of the artists I met there, and be heartbroken by their loss. But one of the most memorable friends I met in my fist few days there gave me something I would never forget, and never let go of.

“Claude Cahun, right?” She said, looking at me. I asked her who that was. She expressed surprise. Didn’t I know who Cahun was? She called me a “spiritual sibling” of this person, who I had never heard of. I Googled Cahun and sure enough, there they were: someone from out of time, a mirror of myself. There was the same dissociated gaze, the bald head, the hook nose. I needed to know more.

Cahun was, I came to find out, a performance artist, a surrealist, a photographer, a member of the Jewish resistance, and a nonbinary person before the word was in common use. They’re perhaps best known for an iconic self-portrait, in which Cahun appears, dolled-up, wearing a shirt that says, “please don’t kiss me, I’m in training.”

Performance extended to every area of Cahun’s life: they apparently used to walk their cat outside using a blindfold for no other reason than it was there to do.

I never expected Google to pay tribute to an artist as modern and bizarre as Cahun, but this morning I logged on to find a Google Doodle celebrating Cahun’s legacy. Happy Birthday, Claude. And never forget: “Under this mask, another mask. I will never be finished removing all these faces.”

 

 
 
 
 
 
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