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Self-portraits actually the work of two in Entre Nous

click to enlarge A mirror theme runs through Entre Nous, on display - through Sept. 23 at the Smokebrush Gallery.
  • A mirror theme runs through Entre Nous, on display through Sept. 23 at the Smokebrush Gallery.

When Tirza Latimer arrived at an art exhibit in Paris in 1995, she came across a series of self-portraits of Claude Cahun, a Jewish lesbian who was persecuted for the shocking photos she produced.

The photos, taken more than a half-century ago, were originally attributed solely to Cahun. But upon further observation, evidence was found that someone else must have been behind the camera.

Latimer became the first scholar to fully explain this argument. And a few years later, the visiting professor of lesbian and gay studies at Yale University collaborated with the Magnes Museum in Berkeley, Calif., and The Jersey Museum in the Isle of Jersey, United Kingdom, to introduce Marcel Moores involvement.

The photos appear in the Acting Out art exhibit, which is touring internationally and a portion of which now is at the Smokebrush Gallery, under the title Entre Nous.

I wanted to correct the view that Cahun acted alone and produced these photos as self-portraits, Latimer says. It was a collaborative, cultural project, rather than Cahun taking self-portraits.

Although Moore does not appear in any of the photos, some images show the shadow of a photographer, suggesting the alliance between the two women.

According to Julie Cole, gallery and administrative director for the Smokebrush Foundation for the Arts, Cahun, born Lucie Schwob (1894-1954), and Moore, born Suzanne Malherbe (1892-1972), were stepsisters. They became lovers and produced the photos between 1915 and 1940. She says the two women changed their names to be ambiguous in terms of gender.

Latimers interest generates from the story of two lifelong homosexual partners who expressed their political and social views through their work.

I was interested in the way they used photography as a site of self-invention in an era when lesbianism wasnt a universally understood term, she says. These women were in a loving sexual relationship and were driven to embrace non-hierarchical ideals of socialism and feminism during an oppositional, sexist and homophobic time.

Cole says the couple participated in avant-garde theater in Paris during the 1920s, which gained them exposure. And when their photography was publicized, their open expressions of Semitism and homosexuality invited condemnation.

They saw themselves as two parts of a whole, Cole says. Many of the photos show a doubling or mirroring, denoting their homosexual union rather than heterosexual.

In 1937, the couple relocated to the Isle of Jersey. When the Nazis occupied the island, Cahuns identification as a Jew and the couples lesbianism led to their imprisonment and the erasure of much of their work. After two years, they were released. The work that was salvaged lives on today.


capsule

Entre Nous: Works by Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore

Smokebrush Gallery, 218 W. Colorado Ave., Suite 102

Exhibition runs through

Saturday, Sept. 30

Free; gallery hours are Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m.; also by appointment and by chance.

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