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When the Nazis invaded Jersey in , the pair put their fondness for assuming different identities to good use. With great bravery - as well as considerable glee - they managed to convince the Germans that what was just a two-woman resistance movement was actually a complex underground organisation consisting of several hundred members. Thirty years ago, no one had heard of either of them.
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But slowly interest has grown, to the point where their work is now seen as presaging that of the American photographer Cindy Sherman, who takes a similar delight in presenting herself in different guises. The women have a cult following of their own: a new book about them has been published and there's an exhibition of pictures from their archive at the Jersey Heritage Trust.
As Schwob and Malherbe's artistic profile has risen, so details of their life together have come to light. The two met in Paris during their teens when Schwob's father married Malherbe's mother. From the start, they established an intense rapport - so intense that it threatened to blot out almost everything, and everybody, else. Insanity ran in the Schwob family. Lucy's mother had been put in an asylum and for a while it looked as if she might be heading the same way.
Claude Cahun: Freedom Fighter
However, Malherbe's arrival on the scene had a dramatic effect on her new step-sister's morale. Eliot give readings. With Malherbe's encouragement, Schwob's incipient narcissism bloomed. She shaved her head and started trying on different personas for size. She has painted nipples onto her leotard which is inscribed with the words: 'I am in training.
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Don't kiss me. It's an undeniably arresting image and one that raises a good many questions. What exactly is Schwob in training for?
To become a woman? Or perhaps to stop being one, and turn into something altogether more ambivalent? And why is she telling people not to kiss her when, given her appearance, it seems unlikely there would have been much of a scramble to do so? In artistic terms, Schwob was the dominant one, but she always used Malherbe as her sounding-board and referred to her as 'l'autre moi'.
It's not known just when the two step-sisters became lovers, but their respective parents were alarmed by the closeness of their relationship and made vain efforts to keep them apart. Possibly, their move to the Channel Islands, in , was prompted by a desire to make a fresh start. Both Schwob and Malherbe had become disillusioned by the political in-fighting among their artistic friends and by the increasing rise in anti-Semitism - Schwob was part Jewish. Enlarge cover.
Claude Cahun: Freedom Fighter - National Portrait Gallery
Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Claude Cahun is the most important artist you've never heard of - until now. Writer, photographer, lesbian; revolutionary activist, surrealist, resistance fighter - Cahun witnessed the birth of the Paris avant-garde, lived through two World Wars and, as 'Der Soldat ohne Namen', risked death by inciting mutiny on Nazi-occupied Jersey.
Le Coeur de Pic, 1937
And yet, she's until recently been mere Claude Cahun is the most important artist you've never heard of - until now. And yet, she's until recently been merely a peripheral figure in these world-shaping events, relegated by academics to the footnotes in the history of art, sexual politics and revolutionary movements of the last century. Now more so than ever, Cahun demands a significant presence in the history of surrealism and the avant-garde - even, in the literary canon of early twentieth-century literature.
Indeed her one major book, Disavowals, is a masterpiece of anti-memoir writing. Much has been made of her as a photographer, but Claude Cahun 'the writer' was one of the most radical and prescient leftists of the century.
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