Beneath This Mask

About this exhibition

Cahun was born Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob, in Nantes, France, and adopted the pseudonym Claude Cahun in 1914. Cahun was born into a financially comfortable, literary, Jewish family and was educated at private school in Surrey, England, and at the Paris University, Sorbonne, France.

Cahun’s extraordinary photographic self portraits incorporate costumes and theatrical staging to construct ground-breaking photographs that blur gender categories, and suggest multiple, fluid possibilities for self expression.



Cahun met André Breton in 1932 and subsequently began associating with the surrealist group, participating in a number of surrealist exhibitions, including the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Gallery, London, in 1936. Cahun’s photograph from the exhibition, of Sheila Legge standing in the middle of Trafalgar Square, her head obscured by a flower arrangement and pigeons perching on her outstretched arms, appeared in numerous publications.


In 1937, Cahun settled in Jersey with her lifelong partner, Suzanne Malherbe, who had adopted the pseudonym Marcel Moore. During World War II and the occupation of Jersey, they both became active as daring resistance workers and anti-war propagandists. In both art and life; word, photograph and action, Cahun was revolutionary; consistently questioning and undermining a patriarchal status quo and offering an alternative world view that deconstructed established, conservative assumptions regarding identity.

This Hayward Touring exhibition is in collaboration with Jersey Heritage and was first presented at the Women of the World Festival 2015, Southbank Centre.