Laura Swanson makes UK debut alongside Claude Cahun at Attenborough Arts Centre


The University of Leicester’s Attenborough Arts Centre presents a solo exhibition by American artist Laura Swanson, alongside the Hayward Touring exhibition of photography by gender-defying artist Claude Cahun (1894-1954).

Laura Swanson Hope NY

Hope NY (2011 – ongoing) Laura Swanson. Courtesy and copyright of the artist.

Gallery 1 is showing an especially commissioned work by Laura Swanson; two new photographic series, Beauty and Recluse, alongside recent work from her mixed-media series Uniforms (2014 – 2015) and pieces from various past projects.

Swanson examines the behaviour of looking at physical difference, working across media including drawing, installation, photography, and sculpture. Her work often references her experience of being a short-statured person, confronting the impact of objectification, exploitation and marginalisation as a result of physical difference.

In her new series Beauty, the artist took portraits of friends wearing ready-made face masks to explore what transpires when selfies are displayed in a formal context. By using the visual language of Baroque portraiture, Beauty elevates and prolongs the ephemerality of the selfie to question the ease of borrowing, concealing, and performing identity in a social media obsessed culture.

“As an avid social media user, I was aware of people taking selfies with face masks as an ironic response to the idea of achieving beauty by appearing temporarily creepy, silly, or grotesque,” Swanson said.

“Curious to see how the masks would look in a studio portrait, I invited friends to sit for portraits while wearing the masks. I wanted to remove the spontaneous visual style of the selfie and evoke the look of formal portraits from the 17th century to complement the absurdity of the masks.

“The casual and carefree nature of the selfie compels me to consider both the instability of identity and the implications of appropriating other identities in order to amuse friends on social media,” Swanson continues. “Does the temporality of the selfie enable it to evade ethical questions, more so than a formal portrait could? Does its cultural dominance amplify and promote the reductive and theatrical representation of identity? Or, is it a cultural indicator of the increasing acceptance of the idea that identity is fluid and not fixed?

“These are some of the thoughts and questions I am presenting to an audience by exhibiting these portraits and I’m thrilled to show Beauty and my other work for the first time in the United Kingdom at the Attenborough Arts Centre.”

Laura Swanson Hope NY

Hope NY (2011 – ongoing) Laura Swanson. Courtesy and copyright of the artist.

In Gallery 3 AAC will also be presenting Beneath this Mask: 42 reproduction giclee prints by French photographer Claude Cahun (1894–1954), whose radical self-portraits brought her posthumous fame. Born Lucy Schwob, she adopted the pseudonym in 1917 to free herself from the narrow confines of gender. Cahun’s work was far beyond its time, challenging ideas of gender, identity and traditional portraiture in these now famous images.

In 1937, Cahun moved from France and settled in Jersey with her stepsister and lover Marcel Moore. She was imprisoned for activities in the resistance during the German occupation of Jersey, and remained in Jersey after the Second World War.

Curation and Experience Director at Jersey Heritage, Louise Downie said: “Claude Cahun was a ground-breaking artist ahead of her time. From her precocious teenage writing to her gender-bending self-portraits and politically charged still-lifes, she prefigured the works or artist like Cindy Sherman by 70 years.”

“She explored herself, her identity and her body in a way so familiar to the Instagram generation. She lived her life in a spirit of defiance and rebellion. This exhibition provides an expansive review of her most significant photographs.”

The exhibition continues until Sunday 10 December 2017 and the galleries are open Monday – Saturday 10am – 5pm and Sunday 12 noon – 4pm.

As part of the exhibition Attenborough Centre will host free debates, lectures, tours and family workshops. All events are free but booking is advised. To book please visit our website: or call our box office: 0116 252 2455.