Claude Cahun is a poet, surrealist, translator and comedienne who exhibited her works at the Surrealists in Paris.
She has done excellent photography and photo montage. She refuses to be stereotyped into any kind of category in her art and plays several roles about her assigned roles. It has been said that she was an artist that was ahead of her times and it was only recently when her works had been quite queer. Cahun depicted brazen transvestitism. She had this theatrical transvestitism which made the other surrealists quite uneasy. Her real name was Lucy Schwob and later she adopted numerous other identities in her photographic self-portraits. She benefited from a rich intellectual home environment.
Her lover Suzanne Malherbe, whom she considered as “the other me,” had been together since they were childhood friends and they both intimately shared moments together. The two formed the Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas or Marguerite Yourcenar and Grace Frick, one of the grand female couples of that era. She was also a part of the Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists (AEAR), which formed under the protection of the communist party and the leftist opposition (trotskyist). The Surrealists, especially Andre Breton and Paul Eluard, were united with the AEAR, and with the Congress of 1935 for the Defense of Culture. She published a polemic essay in May 1934 entitled Les Paris sont ouverts (The Parises are open), which explored the conditions of an effectiveness of the symbolic, poetic act in the development of critical conscience as well as the power of indirect action. She was active in several pursuits such as in Sept.
1935, during the foundation of the insurrectionist contre-attaque (Counter-Attack), together with Andre Breton and Georges Bataille. It was then that Cahun exhibited one of her series of ‘photographic paintings’, Coeur de Pic (Heart of Woodpecker), at the International Surrealist Exposition in London.On the occasion of the Surrealist Exposition of Objects ion May 1936, Cahun published an article entitled “Beware the domestic objects!” She states “But, among other symptoms, the overproduction of objects which are increasingly more unusual (like the microscopic tweezers, useful only under the microscope) guarantees that, in every way, our reality cracks: the chain of forced, brutalizing work, the golden bit of passions broken and rebroken, before perhaps the fading photograph of perishable objects spread out under my eyes.” The two artists Claude and Moore (Lucy and Suzanne) did several works together during the resistance movement of WWII. It was here that they used art to spur mutiny among the German troops. One of their strategies was to type hundreds of insurrectionist tracts, calls to rebellion against the German leaders, on delicate pieces of tissue paper. They crumpled them and tossed them into the cars of the occupying forces or stuffed them into the pockets of German soldiers.
Not long after, they were arrested in 1944 by the Gestapo and condemned to death. Cahun’s photographic works and archives were lost in a looting and Cahun made some life decision moves such as living in “La ferme sans nom” until her death in 1954.She produced several provoking self-portraits where she made used of costumes and masks as a way of exploring her identity. Her images are quite enigmatic and can be paradoxically inviting and rejecting at the same time or sexual and asexual at another time.Meanwhile, Frida Kahlo was one artist that truly expressed herself in her works.
Some people even consider her paintings as a biography of her life. She got famous not just because of her talent, but also the way she used this gift to pursue her political leanings. Sarah Carver wrote that, “Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist, famous for her self-reflective, Surrealist paintings.
She was born in 1907 and died from pneumonia and other complications in 1954 at the mere age of forty-seven.” According to Artcyclopedia, “Surrealism is a style in which fantastic visual imagery from the subconscious mind is used with no intention of making the artwork logically comprehensible.” And stated that, this period in art history, “leftism was fashionable among Surrealists, in fact in almost all intellectual circles” especially in Europe. This is the time Frida Kahlo made her mark in this world.
One of Kahlos’s last works was the painting Marxism Will Give Health to the Sick. This was done in 1954, the year Kahlo died. In the book Frida Kahlo: The Paintings by Hayden Herrera, the author described the painting as:“…Frida, dressed in an orthopedic corset and clutching a red book that must be Marx’s Capital, is the victim saved by the miracle-making saint, Karl Marx. Two enormous hands, one with an extra eye signifying wisdom, descend from the vicinity of Marx to support Frida so that she can cast aside her crutches. Another hand projects from Marx’s head and strangles an American eagle, which is a caricature of Uncle Sam. Beneath the eagle rivers run red and an atomic bomb explodes. The other side of Marx’s head is touched by a peace dove that hovers protectively over both Frida and a globe dominated by the Soviet Union, where the rivers are blue.
” (P 212, 215)Unlike some of the paintings of Kahlo that also depicts political expressions, this painting is very much “declamatory” says Herrera. The earlier painting (My Dress Hangs There) gently mocks and the 1954 painting sees communism versus capitalism as a day versus night, holy peace dove versus evil eagle.The way she illustrated the painting was maybe because during that time, Kahlo wants to put more emphasis on expressing her own identity and political convictions. Herrera quoted Kahlo as she wrote in her own diary during that period: “I am very worried about my painting. Above all to transform it, so that it will be something useful, since until now I have not painted anything but the honest expression of my own self, but absolutely distant from what my painting could do to serve the Party. I should struggle with all my strength for the little that is positive that my health allows me to do in the direction of helping the Revolution.
The only real reason to live.” (P 212)Also during this time in the book The Diary of Frida Kahlo she sketched in her diary as described and translated by Carlos Fuentes:“Kahlo pairs a powerful modern political system—Communism—with an ancient, long-lived regime—the Aztec empire. The traditional Communist symbols of a crossed hammer and sickle arranged in placard fashion are appropriate to her message. Kahlo inscribes the names of her political heroes—Engels, Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao—of whom two years earlier she wrote: “I love them as the pillars of the new Communist world.” (P 261)This was also the time that the doctor amputated her leg and her drug addiction became severe as Herrera wrote, on February 11, 1954, and Frida endured trauma and torture where she almost lost her reason. She had thoughts of killing herself. But Diego was instrumental in keeping her sensibilities intact.But in spite of all, her sketches showed that even while in pain and sorrow she was affirming to herself her communist principles.
And perhaps, looking inside herself to find courage to overcome the pain she was suffering and be productive for the Party. But Carlos Fuentes interpreted, that Kahlo painted the Marxism Will Heal the Sick because at that time Frida “explicitly entrusts her fate to a political ideal after her faith in modern medicine has been shaken”. (P 261) Some people might agree with this.
But given the fact as stated by Herrera, Frida became a member of the Mexican communist Party in 1928 and remained politically active throughout her entire life. The fact that, Frida identified so heavily with the Mexican Revolution that she changed the year of her birth to 1910, the year the revolution began (p. 7) clearly shows her conviction to the ideals of the Party. Therefore, the statement and the interpretation of Fuentes was an underestimation of the capability of Kahlo in expressing her faith and beliefs.In the painting, she depicted her illness to represent what is ailing the society.
The crutches signify the inequality that cripples the poor brought on by the Capitalist system. The hand that helped her cast away her crutches was also a symbol that Kahlo believed Communism will help in discarding the illness. Frida made plenty of self-portraits. In the case of the painting Marxism Will Heal the Sick she elevated her self-portrait to give justice and represent the social problems of the world. She portrayed herself as part of the movement with no pretense. She might have realized that it was the way she can help the Party by actively exposing herself fighting for a just political system which was communism.
The fact that during this time, few women especially women artists, attained the status of Frida, the painting also depicted that a woman can fight for what she believes in, as depicted by the red book that symbolizes the Capital of the communist movement. The painting also illustrated that “weaknesses” such as disability and gender should not be a hindrance in political involvement.She firmly believed that Communism is the right path to justice, as proven by her loyalty to the Mexican Communist Party. She knew in her heart that her life would not be much longer.
She wanted to help the Party in pursuing its cause, despite her illness and her pain. Frida’s life was challenged by her illness. She defeated it with her love for life. Herrera wrote:“In death Frida too, is full of life. In recent years, she became first a myth and then a cult figure.
In Mexico Frida is recognized as the country’s greatest woman artist, and, in the opinion of many, Mexico’s greatest artist…For women everywhere, and especially for women artists, Frida is an example of persevering strength.” (P 224) Frida Kahlo wanted to share with us her feelings. She wanted us to understand that we should believe in something and pursue it with passion and with all vigor for life. For as Herrera wrote, the last words in her journal states, “I hope the exit is joyful—and I hope never to come back—Frida.” (P 219). Yet, her legacy remains in the whole of Mexico. BIBLIOGRAPHYArtcyclopedia Artists by Movement: Surrealism Europe, 1924 to 1950’s Article RetrievedJune 6, 2008 at:<http://www.
artcyclopedia.com/history/surrealism.html>Carlos Fuentes. The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Ultimate Self Portrait. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York.
1995Claude Cahun. Article Retrieved June 6, 2008 at: http://www.jerseyheritagetrust.org/collections/fame/cahun.htmlCraver, Sarah.
Frida Kahlo. 1996. Article Retrieved June 6, 2008 at:<http://www.users.muohio.edu/shermalw/honors_2001_fall/honors_papers_2000/craver.htmlHerrera, Hayden.
Frida Kahlo: The Paintings. HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., New York, 1991