On Their Shoulders–posted in Boulder, Colorado August 7th, 2021

Me / Sherry Wiggins, On Their Shoulders (in my studio), 2021

I am beginning a new practice in the studio (and other places too)—I am learning to photograph myself with my new Sony camera. I have initiated this self-imaging practice with a conceptual and physical ritual—I have chosen 17 women artists: all are conceptual artists and or photographers and or performance artists using photography and film as a medium. I would consider all of them feminists, several are or were writers and theorists as well, all born before 1960. I stand on their shoulders; both figuratively and literally. I have been researching and looking at their work and also collecting books about all of them. I intend to choose a few of each of their works in photography and/or film and simulate or extrapolate on their works with myself as the subject. This is a long-term project that lies adjacent to my on-going project with remarkable women artists of the 20th century “Searching Selves.” This is both an exercise in self-representation and a homage to these amazing women’s work and contributions.

I have repurposed a space in my studio that is evenly lit in the daytime. I hung a black cloth on the wall and over a table. I then set the books of my 17 women artists (18 including myself, notice THE UNKNOWN HEROINE on the top) on the black table. I settled my naked shoulders atop the stack of books and shot multiple images of myself resting / posing on their / our books.

Following are short descriptions of the 17 women’s art practices with an image that exemplifies their work (for me). There is a spectrum of representation (of women and of self) that all these artists cast in their work and on whose shoulders I hope to follow and embody. These artists spur me on and inspire me / conspire with me.

Madame Yevonde was born Yevonde Philone Cumbers in London, U.K. (1893-!975). I have just discovered the work of Madame Yevonde. She was known for her use of color and her commercial and portrait photography. She was also a feminist and a suffragette in the early part of the 20th century. I am particularly interested in the series of portraits she made of British aristocratic ladies in the guise of various goddesses and mythical figures; now known as the “Goddess” series. These images appear to me as both beautiful and “camp” representations of the historical and archetypal feminine.

Madame Yevonde, Lady Michael Balcon as Minerva (from the Goddess series), c. 1935

Claude Cahun was born Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob in Nantes, France (1894-1954). My adoration, fascination and study of writer, photographer, performance artist Claude Cahun continues with a more intensive study of their “self” presentations.  Cahun’s life-long representation of their multiple selves in photographs displays their continual questioning and performance of identity, gender and self. You can read more about Claude Cahun on my previous blog posts. https://sherrywigginsblog.com/2018/12/16/my-heroine-claude-cahun-posted-in-boulder-co-december-16-2018/

Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, Self-Portrait, c. 1927

Maya Deren was born Eleonora Derenkowska in Kiev, Russia (1917-1961). Maya was born to a Jewish family; her father was a psychologist. They fled Russia for the US in 1922. Maya was  brilliant and well educated; she received her master’s degree in English literature from Smith College. She was also beautiful and multi-talented —Maya Deren worked as: an avant-garde filmmaker; choreographer; dancer; anthropologist; film theorist and photographer. I love Deren’s self-presentation in her films. I have studied and mimicked her 1943 film “Meshes of the Afternoon” with my 2013 project “Me and Maya.” I would like to again look at her self- representation particularly in the 1944 film “At Land.” Deren projects a meditative and dream-like spell in her work—I am interested in exploring various states of mind and of the subconscious in my own work.

Maya Deren, still from the film “Meshes of the Afternoon” (by Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943

Anne Noggle was born in Evanston, Illinois USA (1922-2005). Noggle was an amazing artist/photographer whom I have only recently discovered. Noggle was an aviator in her early life and a WASP pilot during WWII. She then studied art and photography at the University of New Mexico in her forties and later taught photography at UNM. Noggle is known for her frank black and white photographic portrayals of older women and particularly of herself. As I question why I (a 66-year-old woman) am compelled to be photographed by others and now by myself, I look to Anne Noggle as a mentor and guide. I realize that the representation of older women continues to be taboo in our society—our physical, sexual, spiritual and even intellectual selves remain relatively invisible.

Anne Noggle, Self-Image in Cochita Lake, 1978

Helena Almeida was born in Lisbon, Portugal (1934-2018). I am forever influenced by the work of Portuguese conceptualist Helena Almeida whom, I have studied in depth. Almeida trained early as a painter and in her life-long art practice she used her body as the subject (her entire body, her feet, her face, her hands) in simple black and white photographs that she sometimes painted with blue or red paint. Almeida’s work crosses the boundaries of painting, performance and photography and film. I heart Helena Almeida; she was the original impetus for my work in Portugal with photographer Luis Branco. I have written about Almeida extensively on my blog: https://sherrywigginsblog.com/2015/08/24/i-have-started-my-research-on-helena-almeida/

Helena Almeida, Inhabited Painting, 1975

Lorraine O’Grady was born in Boston, Massachusetts USA (1934). O’Grady is a conceptual artist, performance artist, writer, curator and critic. I am very sorry that I just missed her retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum “Both/And”. O’Grady came to her art practice in her fourties, after a career as a translator, intelligence analyst and even rock critic. O’Grady’s performative, video and installation work explores the cultural construction of identity and particularly that of black female subjectivity. She is also an art critic and writer. Her 1992 paper/essay “Olympia’s Maid-Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity” was one of the first pieces of critical writing to focus on the black female body. I am excited to dive into her work and in particular her recently published collections of writings “Drawing in Space,” which also documents her amazing body of visual work. I love her early performance of the black beauty queen Mlle Bourgeoise decked out in a gown made of 180 pairs of white gloves.

Lorraine O’Grady, “Mlle Bourgeoise Noire leaves the safety of home,” from Mlle Bourgeioise Noire Goes to the New Museum, 1981

VALIE EXPORT was born Waltraud Lehner in Linz, Austria (1940). VALIE EXPORT’s work is fabulous and brazenly feminist—even her name is a performance, she refused to stick with her father’s name and rebranded herself VALIE EXPORT (like the cigarette). I am especially influenced by her performative photography and body works. Her public performances of the late 60s and early 70s are brave, sometimes confrontational, serious but also kind of tongue and cheek – like EXPORT’s 1969 documentation of her performance “Action Pants-Genital Panic” shown below. For the performance, Export cut out the crotch of her pants and walked throughout a cinema/ theatre offering her crotch while pointing a gun at various people’s heads. I have written about Export on my blog: https://sherrywigginsblog.com/2017/03/13/why-the-body-why-valie-export-posted-in-boulder-march-12-2017/

VALIE EXPORT, documentation of the performance “Action Pants – Genital Panic,” 1969

)Anna Maria Maiolino was born in Scalia, Calabria, Italy (1942). Maiolino moved to Brazil with her family in 1960 (transplanted from Italy and Venezuela) and was involved in the Brazilian art movements of the 60s and 70s and has continued throughout her life as a significant and prolific artist. Maiolino works across a wide variety of mediums including; works on paper, poetry, installation, performance and sculpture. I admire her work tremendously. I love this relatively simple image below “Por um Fio / By a Thread.” Anna Maria is in the center, her mother to the left and her daughter then ten years old on the right.. It is a masterpiece depicting the continuity of the feminine (for those of us who are lucky enough to have a mother and a daugher alive at the same time). We are both tied by a thread and hanging on “By a Thread.”

Anna Maria Maiolino,By a Thread, 1976

Graciela Iturbide was born in Mexico City, Mexico (1942). Iturbide is a very well-known photographer whom I have only recently come to know about. Iturbide studied film in the early 70s with the intention of becoming a film director. She studied with Manuel Alvarez Brava, considered one of the most significant Latin American photographers of the 20th century, and realized that photography was her medium. Iturbide is known for her stunning black and white images—often her subjects are people of Mexico’s indigenous cultures. She focuses on identity, daily life, rituals and the roles of women. There are often dead animals involved. Iturbide’s work has been termed “anthropoetic” by critic Oscar C. Nates. Her work is magnificent. Below is one of her “self-portraits

Graciela Iturbide, Eyes to Fly with? Coyoacan, 1991

Ana Mendieta was born in Havana, Cuba (1948-1985). Ana Mendieta is a mythic and influential figure in contemporary women’s art. Controversy still surrounds Mendieta’s tragic death at 36 years old as she fell 34 stories out of her NYC apartment window with her husband sculptor Carl Andre nearby. Mendieta grew up in Cuba in a wealthy family and after the revolution in 1960 her family sent Ana (aged 12) and her older sister (age 15) to the US—a traumatic dislocation that Mendieta suffered early on. Mendieta’s “earth-body” works from the 70s and early 80s have influenced countless artists. Mendieta stated in 1981: “I have been carrying out a dialogue between the landscape and the female body (based on my own silhouette). I believe this has been a direct result of my having been torn from my homeland (Cuba) during my adolescence. I am overwhelmed by the feeling of having been cast from the womb (nature). My art is the way I re-establish the bonds that unite me to the universe. It is a return to the maternal source.”

Anna Mendieta, Untitled (Blood and Feathers / Sangue e plume),1974

Carrie Mae Weems was born in Portland, Oregon USA (1953). Carrie Mae Weems is a profoundly influential artist—working as a photographer, as a performance artist with text and spoken word and with video since the early 80s. Weems is often the subject of her photographic works especially in her earlier works. No matter whom is the subject of the work; Weems draws us into the picture, always questioning. Here is a quote from Weems as spoken to Dawoud Bey: “… from the very beginning, I’ve been interested in the idea of power and the consequences of power; relationships are made and articulated through power. Another thing that’s interesting about the early work is that even though I’ve been engaged in the idea of autobiography, other ideas have been more important: the role of narrative, the social levels of humor, the deconstruction of documentary, the construction of history, the use of text, storytelling, performance, and the role of memory have all been more central to my thinking than autobiography.” I love her work and this work below particularly.

Carrie Mae Weems, Portrait of a woman who has fallen from grace, 1987

Nan Goldin was born in Washington D.C. USA (1953). Everybody knows something about the work of remarkable photographer Nan Goldin . . . I continue to love her portraiture work, from the beginnings to the present day—Goldin has photographed friends and lovers, herself, LGBT bodies, sexual and intimate encounters, battered bodies (including her own), beautiful sad and transitory moments. Her late 70s early 80s project “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency” is still heralded today. In her seemingly effortless images, Goldin manages to capture the supernal qualities of her subjects. And now Goldin (a recovering opioid addict herself) battles the opioid epidemic with her organization P.A.I.N.

Nan Goldin, Rise and Monty Kissing (from the Ballad of Sexual Dependency), 1980

Sophie Calle was born in Paris, France (1953). Calle is an ultimately cool and smart conceptual artist; photographer, installation artist, writer and prolific book artist. Calle constructs seductive narratives (mysteries, diaries, love letters) with text and image. Though we never quite believe the story, we are always draw into her fictive spell. Here is the text/story that goes with the image “Room with a View” which I am showing below:

“Some nights you can’t put into words. I spent the night of October 5, 2002 in a room set up for me at the top of the Eiffel Tower. In bed. Between white sheets, listening to the strangers who took turns at my bedside. Tell me a story so that I don’t fall asleep. Maximum length: 5 minutes. Longer if thrilling. No story, no visit. If your story sends me to sleep, please leave quickly and ask the guard to wake me… Hundreds turned up. Some nights you can’t describe. I came back down in the early morning. A message was flashing on each pillar: Sophie Calle, end of sleepless night, 7 :00 a.m. As if to confirm that I hadn’t dreamt it all. I asked for the moon and I got it: I SLEPT AT THE TOP OF THE EIFFEL TOWER. Since then, I keep an eye out for it, and if I glimpse it along some street, I say hello. Give it a fond look. Up there, 1,014 feet above ground, it’s a bit like home.”

Sophie Calle, Room With a View, 2010

Cindy Sherman was born in Glenridge, New Jersey USA (1954). Who doesn’t know about Cindy Sherman? —her photographic self-portraits (late 1970s to 2020s) where she transforms herself into myriad guises are amazing. Though she is my age contemporary and a kind of conceptual colleague, I have always steered clear of Cindy Sherman, I am not quite sure why. Of course, her skills in identity camouflage, masquerade and performative “self-portraiture” and her conceptual references to art history, feminine identity, not to mention her photographic skills are astounding. Still, I am not quite a fan girl. However, her early “Untitled Film Stills” from the 70s and early 80s where she recreates herself into various anonymous women of film are my favorites in the Cindy Sherman genre. And I think it is time for me to re-examine Sherman, after all.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still # 6, 1977

Shirin Neshat was born in Qazvin, Iran (1957). Shirin Neshat is known for her remarkable work in film, video and photography. Neshat was raised in Iran in a wealthy Muslim family, her father a doctor and her mother a homemaker. She learned traditional Muslim religious values through her maternal grandparents. She also attended Catholic boarding school in Tehran. Her family encouraged her education and worldliness—Neshat left Iran in 1975 to study at U.C. Berkeley where she received her BA, MA and MFA. She remained in the US and her serious and multi-faceted art practice began in the 90s with “The Women of Allah” series. In this work she overlays portraits of Muslim women with handwritten Persian calligraphy, (sometimes inserting a gun in the picture as well). “The Women of Allah” and other work from this period examines notions of femininity in relationship to the Islamic fundamentalism that came to the fore with the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Neshat is also a prolific and award-winning filmmaker; “Turbulent” (1998), “Rapture” (1999) and “Women Without Men” (2004) have won her multiple awards. Neshat is also a critic in the photography department at Yale University. I have always admired her work and I want to learn more!

Shirin Neshat, Rebellious Silence (from The Women of Allah Series), 1994

Francesca Woodman was born in Denver, Colorado USA (1958 – 1981). Woodman is another heralded figure in the history of women artists. Tragedy and mythos surround her work—she was a prolific young artist who committed suicide at age 22. She is my contemporary, born three years after me and we were both living in Boulder, Colorado in our teenage years. She went on to attend the Rhode Island School of Design.  I knew her parents, artists Betty and George Woodman, who both taught at the University of Colorado where I went to art school when I was older and had children of my own. Anyway, in her short life Francesca was a remarkably productive and talented soul— her black and white self-portraits are dreamlike, stunning, melancholic and evocative. The work has influenced generations of young women photographers. Perhaps because I have entered this arena of “self-imaging” at this late stage in my art life, I have come to look at Francesca’s work with fresh (but older) eyes—there is much to be seen in her remarkable body of works. I wrote about Francesca’s work on my blog post: https://sherrywigginsblog.com/2019/03/29/another-heroine-francesca-woodman-posted-in-boulder-co-march-28-2019/

Francesca Woodman, From the Eel Series Venice, 1977-1978

Laura Aguilar was born in San Gabriel, California USA (1959 – 2018).  I have only recently learned about Laura Aguilar’s remarkable body of photographic work. Aguilar was the daughter of a first generation Mexican-American father and her mother is of mixed Mexican and Irish heritage, she was also born with auditory dyslexia and was a lesbian. Her self-portraiture focuses on her own identity as a differently abled Chicana lesbian who was obese as well. She also created a large body of works/portraits within the gay and lesbian and black and brown communities that she was a part of in California. Her self-portraiture work in the landscape is remarkable, subtle and beautiful. Charlene Villasenor Black, a professor at UCLA said:  “[Aguilar] challenges the idea of the female nude—one of the most important genres in Western art—as the passive object of the male gaze. It’s very clear that she’s aware of the tradition, and she’s able to repeat certain elements from the canon in such a way that shows us how unstable that meaning is and to question these essentialized ideas about women.” Link: https://www.artnews.com/feature/laura-aguilar-who-is-she-1202684828/ Aguilar died in 2018 at the age of 58 from complications related to diabetes.

Laura Aguilar, Center, 1994

Looking at these remarkable women artists work is an important part of my art practice and I hope to continue to work “on their shoulders” in the coming months, possibly years in my own performative photographic work. Hugs . . .

Sherry Wiggins / Me, On Their Shoulders (In my studio), 2021

imaging and imagining selves – another beginning, posted in Boulder, CO June 21, 2021

Self Portrait, Claude Cahun, 1927

The two color images above are a few of the images that I shot early in the morning last week near Maroon Lake in Aspen, Colorado. The black and white “Buddha” image of French artist Claude Cahun’s (1894-1954) is one of my favorite images and I would like to recreate this image sometime. I have been carrying this silver fabric around and last week I found this beautiful grey rock that called to me like a Buddha rock or enlightenment rock.

I was attending a photography workshop at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Colorado taught by the remarkable photographer and artist Jess Dugan. The course was titled “The Intimate Portrait.” I decided to take this class to push myself to learn to take pictures of myself / self images / self-portraits. I have very little training in photography, so this is a big challenge for me.

I had asked my dear friend and fabulous artist and photographer Sama Alshaibi for advice on equipment and I bought a camera and lens that I can use primarily to take images and portraits of myself. I purchased a Sony a7iii mirrorless camera and a Zeiss F1.8 lens. The technology of this camera is a bit overwhelming and last week I just plunged forward with lots of support from Jess and my classmates at Anderson Ranch.

One piece of advice that Jess repeated to all of us was to just slow down and work whatever situation you have set-up for yourself and your subject (my subject being me). On the first day I chose the horizontal wood wall under the porch on the back side of the main building at Anderson Ranch to shoot myself in front of.

These seem like very simple images, but learning to manage the tripod, the auto-focus, depth of field, self-timer, the remote and also just getting comfortable with my face, my gaze, gesture—this has been no easy task for me. I also shot myself over and over in my hotel room.

I modeled for one of the talented photographers/ artists in the workshop, Kevin Gochez. Kevin asked me if I would model nude in my hotel room for them. They are working on a series of portraits in hotel rooms with various people. The image below is one of the several beautiful images that Kevin took. I am in awe and I want to learn about light next . . . Kevin and I traded prints—they gave me this print below and I gave them the print of my face coming out of the Buddha/enlightenment rock.

“Sherry” (Snow Village, CO), Kevin Gochez, 2021

I have recently become aware of American photographer Anne Noggle’s work (1922 – 2005). Her frank, funny, sad, joyful black and white portraits and portrayals of herself and her own aging process, as well as her portraits of other older women, are remarkable.  I decided to try to reproduce one of Noggle’s self-portraits “A Rose is A Rose is A Rose.”  It was a humbling exercise for me that I consciously chose. The technicalities of this kind of close up image were difficult for me. It was also an exploration of vanity and beauty —exposing my skin, my wrinkles . . . Obviously this is part of the process of self-imaging a 65-year-old woman. What am I willing to reveal, what am I not willing to reveal? Noggle was 63 when she took this image.

A Rose is A Rose is A Rose, Anne Noggle, 1985
after Anne’s Rose . . ., 2021

This was a life and art altering week for me. I have been in a bit of a creative lull since the completion of the book and the exhibition THE UNKNOWN HEROINE. Jess Dugan is an amazing teacher as well as artist and human being. They create a learning atmosphere that brings out the best in everyone. I have been trying to get going on to the next major body of work. I want to research and embody all of Claude Cahun’s Heroines (there are 14 in Cahun’s text including: Eve, Judith, Salome, Sappho, Cinderella . . . ). This will be a continuation of my research into feminist history, representation and identity. My collaborator for the last several years, photographer Luis Branco, is in Portugal and we do plan on working together this fall at the OBRAS Artist Residency on multiple projects. We have a large show of our collaborative work “The Mirror Between Us” rescheduled because of the pandemic for the spring of 2022 in Evora, Portugal. I love working with Luis and I want to continue to work in Europe. Jess suggested that a personal practice of self-portraiture could run parallel to my more long-term conceptual and collaborative projects. I am really excited, I love my new camera and I want to get more proficient with it. And I can learn to take pictures of my selves in whatever forms / identities / personas I wish to try in my studio in my home in the yard – wherever.

This last image of Anne Noggle’s is titled “Stellar by Starlight No. 2” and it expresses something that I feel;  a sense of joy, of humour, a freedom, a challenge to image and imagine my/our many selves and indentities… and I must get a tiara soon!! Happy Summer Solstice!!

Stellar by Starlight No. 2, Anne Noggle, 1985

the limited edition artists’ book – THE UNKNOWN HEROINE, posted in Boulder, CO, April 22, 2021

THE UNKNOWN HEROINE is a 64-page limited edition artists’ book made by conceptual artist Sherry Wiggins in collaboration with photographer Luís Filipe Branco and curator and writer Cydney Payton. The book is comprised of text and images that are based on Wiggins’ interaction with French photographer and writer Claude Cahun’s essay “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess.” The book includes this essay by Claude Cahun as well as an essay by Cydney Payton. You can download Payton’s essay below. The book was designed by Joseph Logan.

PROLOGUE FOR C.C. – Sherry Wiggins

I am writing to you, C.C., about what happened in The House.

The House, named Grunfoort after a castle that disappeared long ago, was strange at first. It was beautiful, old-fashioned. White tulips grew in the garden. Aren’t they a symbol of loss? I saw them for their other meaning—regeneration.

Persephone called to me. Or was it Demeter? Daughter or mother? This always confuses me.

I brought your Heroines* with me. The stories (allegories, para­bles) are so good, so complicated, filled with references to history, to the Bible, to literature, mythology, fairytales, and they are so wickedly feminist and modern: EVE THE TOO CREDULOUS, Penelope the Irresolute, HELEN THE REBEL, SAPPHO THE MISUNDERSTOOD, SALOME THE SKEPTIC, BEAUTY (OR THE TASTE FOR THE BEAST), THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess, THE ANDROGYNE and the rest. I want to make all of your Heroines my own.

As I delved into the tale of “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess,” allusion by allusion, I understood that, though the story is yours, this is really my story. And though you tell the story well, I have lived this story. I also realized that The House was the perfect setting for the tale, a perfect abode for both THE WIFE and the the Princess.

That’s how it all began—the embodiment, this practice, this the­atre—with me enacting the story—your version, my version, our version, in The House.

I took my role as THE ESSENTIAL WIFE quite seriously, and the the Unknown Princess emerged as well. I dressed in black. I pulled my hair back severely. Lots of makeup—Chanel and more. Was it a parody, a performance or truth? The truth, is an older woman looks better with makeup, not too much.

I am no actress. I have become a performance artist. Who knew? Maybe you knew, C.C.; you did all that theatre in Paris in the twenties. I love those images of you as The Devil, The Buddha, The Dandy, The Maiden. Identity is a fluid subject, but you already know that.

Day after day I performed quite well—almost not a performance— as THE ESSENTIAL (House) WIFE. What drudgery! What fun! Well, the the Unknown Princess certainly appeared too. It was all somewhat exhausting: the cooking, the cleaning, the play acting. I needed lots of cigarettes in the garden.

That last morning, while putting on makeup, eyeliner, red lip­stick in the upstairs bathroom, standing there in my tights and Spanish socks, I thought, Why not? I went to the banister and posed. What do you think, C.C? Am I THE ANDROGYNE? 

Still performing, I put on my robe and went into The Study, the most beautiful room in The House. The windows, the light . . .

What do you think, C.C.? What is a Masterpiece anyway? Masterpiece or not—who decides?

* Claude Cahun, “Heroines,” translated Norman MacAfee, in Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Cindy Sherman, ed. Shelley Rice (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1999), 43 – 94.

You can download the pdf of Cydney Payton’s essay “A Room of One’s Own” below:

All 19 performative photographs in the book were made in collaboration with Luís Filipe Branco. All 19 images are also available as limited edition archival digital prints.

All photographs of the book were made by Robert Kittila.

Please contact me if you would like to receive a copy of the book.

A brief biography of Claude Cahun – posted in Boulder, CO, April 22, 2021

Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, Untitled ( I am in training don’t kiss me), 1927, gelatin silver print ,4 5/8 x 3 ½ inches, Jersey Heritage Collection.

For many of us, French artist Claude Cahun has materialized as a kind of queer superheroine. Cahun first appeared on the world art stage in the early 1990s, nearly forty years after their death, when French scholar François Leperlier intro­duced Claude Cahun’s written and photographic work in the monograph Claude Cahun: l’écart et la métamorphose. Since this introduction, Cahun has been well examined, repub­lished and widely exhibited. Today, the artist Claude Cahun is lauded as a feminist, performance artist, photographer and Surrealist writer.

Claude Cahun was born Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob in Nantes, France in 1894. Early in life Schwob identified as androgynous, resisting a gendered life. As a teenager, Lucy met Suzanne Malherbe; they became best friends and would later become life partners. Lucy’s father married Suzanne’s mother, making them stepsiblings as well. By the end of World War I, Schowb identified as Claude Cahun and Malherbe as Marcel Moore. The pair moved to Paris in the early 1920s. Cahun came to be well regarded as a writer, performer and artist even within male-dominated Surrealist circles; Moore was equally acknowledged for their original drawings and illustrations.

Cahun was a prolific writer. Two of their most signifi­cant literary works are Héroïnes and Aveux Non Avenus. Héroïnes (Heroines) was first published in 1925 as a series of fifteen short stories and monologues. It remains a radical text that decon­structs gender roles and stereotypes in Western literature with such figures as Cinderella, Salome, Eve, Sappho and Androgyne. Aveux Non Avenus (DISAVOWALS), first published in 1930 as a limited edition artists’ book, takes the form of a literary mon­tage: a compilation of dreams, stories, poems and philosophi­cal musings. In this complex work, Cahun approaches some of their favorite subjects, including love, narcissism, gender and androgyny. Each of the nine chapters begins with a unique pho­tomontage made by Cahun and Moore.

Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, photomontage for the book Aveux non Avenus, 1930,  original size for publication,8 7/16 x 6 ½ inches, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Library.

Throughout the many years Cahun and Moore spent together, it is almost certain that Moore was behind the lens— shooting most of the exceptional black and white portraits that Cahun inhabited. These images appear to us as intimate explo­rations of identity, gender and selfhood. Until the late twenti­eth century, these groundbreaking photographs remained in relative obscurity, with the exception of their use by Moore and Cahun in the elaborate photomontages produced for the book Aveux Non Avenus.

118mm x 94mm (whole) 107mm x 82mm (image) also neg

Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, Untitled (reflected in the mirror), c.1928, Jersey Heritage Collection.

THE UNKNOWN HEROINE project is a modern retelling or interpretation of Cahun’s essay “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess” (one of the fifteen essays in Heroines). The resulting performative photographs can be viewed as a tribute to the work of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore and to their collaboration.

Please read my blog post about “the limited edition artists’ book-THE UNKNOWN HEROINE, posted April 22, 2021

THE UNKNOWN HEROINE – the exhibit and the book coming in March and April to Michael Warren Contemporary in Denver – posted Feb 21, 2021

All images by Luís Filipe Branco

I am thrilled that THE UNKNOWN HEROINE project, initiated in Holland in the spring of 2019 with photographer Luís Filipe Branco, will be exhibiting at Michael Warren Contemporary in Denver in March and April and will also be available as a limited edition artists’ book—all during Month of Photography in Denver.

This project began with my investigation of French, feminist, surrealist writer and artist extraordinaire Claude Cahun (1894-1954). My research into Cahun led me to their groundbreaking feminist text, Heroines, first published in 1925. Here, Cahun traces the stories of fifteen heroines‑Eve, Sappho, Delilah, Cinderella, Helen and Judith among them. Cahun updates these well-known (and some lesser known) heroines with panache and humor and points out the gender oppressive characterizations that these heroines have endured over the last few centuries and millennia.

One of the essays in Cahun’s Heroines is titled “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess” (the the is not a typo). This heroine of Cahun’s is written as an archetype of a more ordinary woman. I chose this specific essay and character to enact and embody because I have lived out these roles of “The Wife” and “the the Princess” (albeit a self-proclaimed princess). The OBRAS Artist Residency in Holland was the perfect setting for my performance of this character; located in a beautiful Victorian house in the small village of Renkum. My long-term collaborator, photographer Luís Branco, joined me there. The house presented a variety of mise-en-scène for my performance. We shot thousands of images of me in the rooms and gardens of this house. This was an intense experience for me, perhaps more cinéma-vérité than performance art. Luís captured these charged and sometimes unsettled moments in rapid fire. These images appear as revealing and personal portraits of an older woman‑the unknown heroine. I started writing a text in Holland as well. The text is stream of consciousness in form and mirrors Cahun’s style.

Early on, I enlisted curator and writer (and dear friend) Cydney Payton to help me with the project. She has been an invaluable and trusted contributor: working with me on the text; helping with the selection of images and just recently she has written an incisive essay for the book. Joseph Logan, my step son and talented book designer, has skillfully and graciously designed the book that documents this project. The small but beautiful 64-page book includes: 19 of the color and black and white images that Luís Branco and I made together; my own experimental text; the essay ”THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess” by Claude Cahun; and Cydney’s essay “A Room of One’s Own.” The book is going to print and will be available in the middle of March. The exhibit will be at Michael Warren Contemporary in Denver March 9th to April 17th 2021.

Following are some of the images and text from the project.

The house was beautiful in an old-fashioned way.

There were white tulips in the garden.

Her hair was like a snare. She found some truth in being there.

She saw herself in “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess.” This was her story and that of countless others.

That’s when Talking Heads played. Stop Making Sense.

She thought, “Why not please him?”

There were the small things, . . . the pearls he shot on her eyes.

. . . the the Unknown Princess dreaming with a cigarette in the garden.

It was all about the gaze. That history being everywhere.

As the Dutch Study filled with light . . .

The question became: What is a Masterpiece?

Many thanks are due to friends and family near and far who have given time, support and their responses to this project. I owe tremendous gratitude to Carolien van der Laan, Ludger van der Eerden and and Josien Jongejan of The OBRAS Foundation. I am very grateful to Mike McClung and Warren Campbell of Michael Warren Contemporary for their support of this exhibition and book. A big thank you ALL AROUND!

Mike and Warren create a safe environment in their spacious gallery during these times. Of course masks are required. We have scheduled a timed opening event and a book signing event that you must sign up for on-line to maintain social distancing. For my friends in Denver and Boulder I am more than happy to schedule a time when I can meet you in the gallery and discuss the exhibit and the book more privately.

THE UNKNOWN HEROINE – March 9-April 17, 2021

Michael Warren Contemporary, 760 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, CO

Gallery Reception: Friday, March 12 (4-8PM) must register on-line

Book Signing: Saturday April 10 (12-5 pm) must register on-line

Phone: (303) 635-6255 Website: https://www.michaelwarrencontemporary.com/

Please contact me if you would like a copy of the book.

Encarnações em Portugal / Incarnations in Portugal – February 9, 2021 posted in Boulder, CO

All images by Luís Filipe Branco

Woman Rising, 2019

Spring is on the horizon and I am looking forward to Month of Photography in Denver in March. I will be showing my performative works produced with Portuguese photographer Luís Filipe Branco in several shows in Denver. We will be exhibiting THE UNKNOWN HEROINE at Michael Warren Contemporary March 9th to April 17th. THE UNKNOWN HEROINE is a photographic and book project that I initiated with Luís in Holland in 2019 while at the Obras Artist Residency in Renkum. We will exhibit this project as an installation of photographs and text at Michael Warren Contemporary. I am also producing a beautiful book of text and images with the help of Cydney Payton and my step – son and brilliant book designer Joseph Logan, with accompanying essays by French artist Claude Cahun and Cydney Payton. The book will be available during the exhibition. I will be posting more about this project, the book and the exhibit, as Month of Photography draws nearer.

I will also be exhibiting several of the works I have made with Luís in Portugal in three different Month of Photography group exhibitions in Denver. Following is a selection of works made at OBRAS – Portugal in the spring of 2019 with Luís Branco. Looking at this group of images I think – who is that scantily clothed woman? She is so free and unconstrained in the landscape. It is as if I become someone else in Portugal, I seemingly transform, I am reborn into many different women – Incarnations / Encarnações. This body of work is particularly poignant to me this spring, as I view this older woman (me) in the verdant spring landscape. This rural region in Portugal, the Alentejo, is close to my heart. Portugal is now undergoing a very difficult time with the pandemic. We will be exhibiting these works in 2022 in Portugal in a large exhibit of Luís Branco and my work made in the Alentejo over the last 6 years – “The Mirror Between Us”  in the beautiful Igreja de Sao Vicente in Evora. This exhibit has been rescheduled with the Municipality of Evora for spring of 2022 because of the covid pandemic.

Outside Woman I, 2019.

The woman is ghostly/ mysterious in the b&w image Outside Woman I. There is a kind of reverse voyeurism going on when Luís shot from the inside out. This work will be shown in the exhibit “Eye of the Camera – Myths and Legends” at the Littleton Museum March 19th to April 26th juried by John Barnabas Lake.

Outside Woman II, 2019.

Primavera III, 2019

Nude Chair, 2019

Nude Chair was selected for the fabulous ongoing Mark Sink project THE BIG PICTURE 2021. THE BIG PICTURE is a massive undertaking which Mark leads – grand scale contemporary photography is gathered from artists around the world and expanded as Xerox prints that are displayed in galleries and in outdoor locations throughout Denver and around the globe.

25th of April, 2019

Luís and I made this image on the 25th of April, 2019. This is the date celebrated in Portugal as the date in 1974 of the “Carnation Revolution.” This is when the military and civil resistance in Portugal overthrew the authoritarian Estado Novo regime and thus began the Portuguese democracy. Carnations were offered to the soldiers and placed in their gun muzzles and on the lapels of their uniforms.

Shepherd’s Umbrella, 2019

This work Shepherd’s Umbrella, will be exhibiting at Redline Contemporary Art Center in the large group exhibit “Shame Radiant,” conceived and curated by Todd Herman. The Alentejo region of Portugal is known for it’s cork trees, vineyards and the sheep and pigs and cows that inhabit the region. This really is a shepherd’s umbrella.

Seat at Evoramonte, 2019

This work Seat at Evoramonte will be exhibiting at the Littleton Museum in the “Myths and Legends” exhibit. This image was taken on the mountaintop at Evoramonte in Portugal. This is a magical mountain with a castle on the top and one of my favorite places in Portugal. I have incarnated in several forms on this mountain . . .

I am excited to be exhibiting in Colorado this spring. Month of Photography programmers, Michael Warren Contemporary and all the galleries and museums are doing extraordinary jobs at keeping culture going safely; timed openings, zoom artist talks, instagram everything … We owe much to these tireless cultural workers for all their efforts over the last year. Big air hugs to all!

Twenty Twenty, The Magic Mirror and Claude Cahun – posted in Boulder, CO December 29, 2020

Mirror at Santa Susana, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Filipe Branco, 2017.

The image above, Mirror at Santa Susana, was to be shown in the exhibit The Mirror Between Us ‑a large exhibit of Luís Branco and my work made over the last five years in Portugal that was scheduled to open in the beautiful Igreja de São Vicente in Évora in April 2020.

2020 began, for me, with the excitement of preparing for the exhibit The Mirror Between Us. I had returned to Portugal in Oct 2019 to plan the exhibit, sponsored by the Municipality of Évora and the OBRAS Foundation. Curators and friends Ludger van der Eerden and Carolien van der Laan and photographer Luís Branco and I had the exhibit planned, produced and ready to install. Cydney Payton wrote an insightful essay “Mirror Image” specifically for the exhibit. Announcements were ready, my plane tickets bought, parties planned. In the middle of March, with the rising specter of covid, we decided we must postpone and reschedule the exhibit just weeks before it was to open. What a disappointment! Thankfully, Ludger and Carolien have rescheduled The Mirror Between Us with the Municipality of Évora for the spring of 2022, though this seems a long time away . . .

The good news is that this rescheduling has offered me the time to reflect, write and produce the work I had initiated with French artist Claude Cahun (1894-1954) as my inspiration in May of 2019 while at OBRAS-Holland. Cahun has become a double mirror for me, reflecting in both my written and visual work.  Cahun was a prolific writer and visual artist, producing Surrealist texts as well as stunning black and white “self-portraits” (and many other forms of writing, sculptures, photo-montages) throughout their life. With Claude Cahun fully in my mind, this last spring, I began again the process of writing and rewriting text, and the editing and selection of images, and the production of my own work inspired by this remarkable artist.

First I produced My Claude My Medusa. Luís Branco and I had performed a “remake” of a photograph Cahun had made in 1915 when Cahun was about 21 years old. We shot hundreds of images of me with my head on a pillow and my hair splayed out in a similar fashion to Cahun’s iconic photograph (when I was 63 years old). When I first saw the images (of me) I said “Oh My God I look like Medusa.” I decided to exhibit the image of myself as Medusa and the reprint of the image of Cahun together (both large!) and write a poem about this enactment and embodiment with Cahun. My dear friend Cydney Payton, curator, writer and creative agitator stepped in and helped me with this poem. These works were installed and exhibited together in the exhibit “Pink Progression Collaborations” at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities this past summer and fall.

Reprint of Claude Cahun’s 1915 Self Portrait for My Claude My Medusa, b&w digital image,36 x 48.”

My Claude My Medusa, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, 2019, color digital print, 36 x 48.”

The poem above expresses the complexity of entering into dialogue (and embodiment) with another artist who was obviously queer in today’s terminology and in Cahun’s own terminology neuter or androgynous.

“Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.”

– Claude Cahun in Disavowals

Concurrently with the development of the My Claude My Medusa project this last spring I began to pour myself back into my larger project with Cahun – THE UNKNOWN HEROINE. This was the primary project that I initiated with photographer Luís Branco at OBRAS-Holland in May 2019. Cydney Payton has been involved with this larger project from its inception as well. Luís and I shot 1000’s of images in the beautiful Huize Grunfoort in Holland‑ all based on my embodiment and interaction with Cahun’s short essay titled “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess.” This short story is one of fifteen essays in Cahun’s text Heroines first printed in 1925 in France and translated by Norman MacAfee into English and published in the 90s. Heroines remains a transgressive text that deconstructs gender roles and stereotypes in Western European fairytales, classic literature, and biblical stories. In this complex work Cahun approaches archetypal figures such as Cinderella, Salome, Eve, Sappho, Androgyny and then reconstructs/rethinks these heroines into modern life with feminist acumen and sardonic humor. I selected Cahun’s essay “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess” to contemplate, enact and perform, because this narrative (of all the Heroines stories) is closest to my own (though my own real-life story has diverged in the latter part of my life from what are considered stereotypical gender roles).  During the time in the Netherlands I also began writing my own text that I addressed specifically to Cahun.

I returned home from Holland in June 2019 and realized that I wanted to make a book with (some) of the images from Holland and my own text, an “artist’s book”. I spoke with my stepson, Joseph Logan who is a brilliant book designer in New York, and he agreed to design the book for me. I started working with Cydney on the text. Luís did some initial editing of our images with me. I started putting together short pieces of narrative text with specific images with Cydney. It was all very exciting, but I also realized I needed to give some time and space to the project to distill and find it’s form  …  I decided to put the work aside and go on to other projects for a period.

from THE UNKNOWN HEROINE series, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, 2019.

This last spring, I was able to begin again and look a fresh at the images and the text. At a certain point Cydney and I decided that she would work as my “official” editor on the book. Over the last several months we have worked and reworked (or as Cydney describes it “burnishing”) the text and the images.

from THE UNKNOWN HEROINE series, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco , 2019.

from THE UNKNOWN HEROINE series, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco , 2019.

Self Portrait, Claude Cahun, 1928.

Concurrently, I have continued my research into Cahun’s work and life‑examining Cahun’s Heroines text in more detail and reading their Disavowals. Both of these Surrealist style texts are complex and full of allusions to classical literature, to history and other authors, not easy reading but fascinating and compelling. I have also read some of François Leperlier’s scholarship on Cahun (though most of his work is not yet translated into English and I am not literate in French). I have continued to investigate more recent feminist and queer scholarship and critique of Cahun and their partner Marcel Moore’s life and work together.

my Claude Cahun library

A few months ago I wrote Norman MacAfee, the translator of Cahun’s text Heroines, to ask if I could use the essay “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess” (yes it is “the the” not a typo) in my book. MacAfee and MIT press have graciously allowed me to reprint Cahun’s translated essay in my book.

Joseph designed the initial draft of the book THE UNKNOWN HEROINE in November and it is going to be gorgeous! Cydney is writing an essay for the book! She has a keen understanding of this project as well as my long-term practice Searching Selves with other remarkable women artists of the 20th century. I owe tremendous gratitude to Cydney, Joseph and Luís – they have been and continue to be my “dream team” for this book and project.

Michael Warren Contemporary will exhibit the project THE UNKNOWN HEROINE as an installation of text and images March 9th to April 17th 2021, during Month of Photography in Denver. The book will be printed and ready for the exhibit. I am so grateful for Mike and Warren’s support and the support from OBRAS-Holland and OBRAS -Portugal, and for the encouragement and support of many friends and family near and far. I hope that my Colorado friends will come out to see the exhibit. I will get a copy of the book to all who want one. And I am forever grateful for the inspiration and the magic mirror of the remarkable Claude Cahun.

QUE ME VEUX –TU? (WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?), Claude Cahun, 1928.

Happy full moon in Cancer!! The last full moon of the decade. Here’s to our New Year in 2021 (and a vaccine for all) and to times when we can all be together safely.

Curating an exhibition – Shark’s Ink: The California Crew – posted in Boulder, CO October 28 2020

Hung Liu, Crossing the River: Leaping, 2003, 30 x 44 ½ ”, color lithograph

The beautiful print above by Hung Liu is in the exhibition I recently curated titled Shark’s Ink: The California Crew. This exhibit is now installed at Frasier Meadows Retirement Community in Boulder, Colorado and is part of a unique collaboration between the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and Frasier Meadows. It is a gorgeous exhibit! However because of covid restrictions, people outside of the Frasier community will not be able to see the exhibition. So I have put together a “walk-through” and document of the exhibition. It was so much fun to work with my dear friend master printer Bud Shark and his “team” at Shark’s Ink and also with the BMoCA staff in putting this exhibition together.


Master printer Bud Shark has been creating highly crafted fine-art prints in collaboration with respected artists from across the United States and Europe since 1976, right here in Colorado. Shark’s Ink: The California Crew showcases the prints of fourteen accomplished California-based artists made with Bud Shark over the last four decades.

You will see – golden landscapes from Susan Hall; an exuberant abstraction by Rex Ray; beautifully rendered portraits by Hung Liu; a ferocious climbing tiger from Don Ed Hardy; a cartoonish Rin Tin Tin by Roy De Forest; the digitally based abstract works of Amy Ellingson; a striking painterly print by Italo Scanga; Mildred Howard’s elegantly repurposed and collaged antique engravings; Alison Saar’s modest portrait of an African American washerwoman; William T. Wiley’s finely wrought woodcut print of the ancient biblical sea creature Leviathin; Enrique Chagoya’s sardonic but serious commentaries on contemporary culture; Kara Maria’s explosive and almost psychedelic patterned prints; Brad Brown’s delicately torn and reconfigured monotypes and Robert Hudson’s monumental lithograph that seems to refer to the abstract sculpture for which he is known.

The prints in this exhibition represent the talents of the individual artists combined with the unique artistry and vision of master printer Bud Shark.  While working with Shark and his skilled team each artist is invited to manifest their work with a variety of printmaking processes – lithography, monotype, three-dimensional prints, woodcut, chine collé, collage, digital, and hand coloring. The results are beautiful, masterful, stunning.

Sherry Wiggins  – October, 2020

The exhibit begins in the big open gallery space with the landscapes of Susan Hall and the brilliant abstraction by Rex Ray:

Susan Hall, Solitary Oak, 2012, 18 x 24”, color lithograph

Susan Hall, As the Moon Rises, 2012, 18 x 24”, color lithograph with pochoir

Rex Ray, Pyzinerol, 2010, 44 ½  x 30 ¼ ” , color lithograph

Hung Liu’s painterly portraits are hung in the main gallery:

Hung Liu, Unofficial Portraits: The Martyr, 2001, 30 x 30”, color lithograph w/collage

Hung Liu, Official Portraits: Immigrant, 2006, 30 x 30”, color lithograph w/ collage

I couldn’t resist hanging Don Ed Hardy’s finely wrought climbing tiger next to Roy De Forest’s wonderful dog print/sculpture:

Don Ed Hardy, Climber, 2011, 40 x 26”, color lithograph

Roy De Forest, Ode to Rin Tin Tin, 2002, 34 x 39  x 4” , color lithograph/woodcut in artist made frame

We juxtaposed the elegant computer based abstractions of Amy Ellingson with the large vibrant painterly print by Italo Scanga:

Amy Ellingson, Variation (White/Oak), No. 1, 2019, 32 ¾ x 30 ”, color lithograph

Amy Ellingson, Variation (White/Oak), No. 2, 2019, 32 ¾ x 30”, color lithograph

Italo Scanga, Celeste, 1991, 53 ¼  x 37”, color lithograph

In the more intimate hallway we hung Mildred Howard’s series of multi- layered monotype collages with Alison Saar’s lusciously drawn figure of the washer woman:

Mildred Howard, Assegnazioni con De Seingalt II, 2017, 20 ¾ x 17”,  collage/ chine collé/ digital/ litho 1/1

Mildred Howard, Assegnazioni con De Seingalt IV 2017, 20 ¾ x 17”,  collage/ chine collé/ digital/ litho 1/1

Mildred Howard, Incontro con Casanova: il potere dell’Altro VII, 2018, 20 ¾ x 17”,   monoprint/ digital/ litho / collage 1/1

Mildred Howard, Incontro con Casanova: il potere dell’Altro XXII, 2018, 20 ¾ x 17”,  monoprint/ digital / litho / collage 1/1

Alison Saar, Washtub Blues, 2000, 30 x 20” , color lithograph

And the magnificent Leviathin creature by William T. Wiley is hung on it’s own, this is a very large print, and incredibly detailed!

William T. Wiley, Leviathin #VIII, 1992, 26 ¼ x 78 ½ ”, hand colored woodcut

The delicate collages of Brad Brown’s are hung next to the large sculptural print of Robert Hudson’s:

Brad Brown, By and By #12, 2005, 17 x 29”, color monoprint collage

Brad Brown, By and By #17, 2005, 26 x 36”, color monoprint collage

Robert Hudson, White of the Eye, 1986, 47 ½ x 31 ½ ”, color lithograph

And the powerfully patterned prints of Kara Maria are hung next to the thoughtfully thinkfully prints of Enrique Chagoya’s:

Kara Maria, No Heroes, 2004, 22 x 30” , color lithograph

Kara Maria, Hawaiian Punch 2, 2010 , 20 x 15”, color monoprint

Kara Maria, Hawaiian Punch 5, 2010, 20 x 15”, color monoprint

Enrique Chagoya, Illegal Alien’s Guide to Somewhere Over The Rainbow, 2010  24¾ x 40 ¾ ” color lithograph w/chine collé

Enrique Chagoya,The Thingly Thingness of Things , 2013, 22¼  x  30”, color lithograph

It is a fantastic exhibit and I want to thank Bud Shark – for being the remarkable artist and master printer and good guy that he is, Barbara Shark and Roseanne Colachis for all their help on the exhibit and of course the wonderful staff at BMoCA, Nicole Rausch, Kiah Butcher and David Dadone and Frasier Meadows for hosting this exhibit.

THE UNKNOWN HEROINE in process… posted in Boulder, Colorado June 18, 2020

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from THE UNKNOWN HEROINE series, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, 2019.

During the last few months, while I have been relatively isolated in my home and studio in Boulder, Colorado, I’ve had time to review and produce THE UNKNOWN HEROINE project. I initiated this performative project in May 2019, while at Foundation OBRAS in the Netherlands, working with my long-time collaborator, photographer Luís Branco.

This work was inspired by an essay written by the remarkable French artist, Claude Cahun, titled “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess,” originally published in the 1925 book, Héroïnes. Héroïnes remains a transgressive text as it deconstructs gender roles and stereotypes in Western European fairytales, classic literature, biblical stories and modern life (circa 1925). Cinderella, Salome, Eve, Sappho and Androgyne are among the heroines Cahun renders. I have been working with the English translation of Heroines translated by Norman MacAfee that was published in the book: Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Cindy Sherman, that is edited by Shelley Rice.*


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Cover of Claude Cahun’s Héroïnes (photo-montage by Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore,) Éditions Mille et une Nuits, 2006, Héroïnes was first published in 1925.

I have chosen Claude Cahun as a heroine of my own, an artist to study and embody. Cahun was born Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob in Nantes, France, in 1894. Lucy Schwob chose to take the gender-neutral name Claude Cahun. Cahun became a significant artist ─ feminist, intellectual, performance artist, photographer, sculptor, Surrealist writer and a committed, even jailed, anti-Nazi activist. Claude was also a lesbian, cross-dresser, possibly transexual, but definitely gender ambiguous. Cahun lived and worked with Marcel Moore (born Suzanne Malherbe) from an early age, until Claude’s death at sixty in 1954.

For more on Cahun, please read my blog post from December 16, 2018: https://sherrywigginsblog.com/2018/12/16/my-heroine-claude-cahun-posted-in-boulder-co-december-16-2018/

I selected “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess”  to embody, enact and perform, because the story is close to my own. Cahun characterizes this double heroine with humor, compassion and astute feminist analysis. The heroine, the the Unknown Princess, is unnamed (not baptized) by her mother, the Queen, and this allows her certain freedoms. She marries, though apparently mismatched, and lives a privileged life with her husband. Cahun writes:

“They were very happy, with a goodness without egotism, because they had many children who would unite the ugliness of the father with the incorrigible beastliness of the mother.” 

As the husband and wife age, his attributes diminish, whereas she blossoms and outlives her “Lord and Master.” But “she was still a fine specimen…,” Cahun writes. When our heroine dies, Cahun prescribes her epitaph:

And the entire Race of women, recognizing themselves in this dead sister, consecrated the flat stone of a symbolically empty tomb and solemn feasts in memory of the Unknown Heroine.

There is coincidence in my own life with this story of the Wife, the Princess, the Unknown Heroine, as well as with Cahun’s life. Like Cahun, I come from an intellectual family. I have been married for most of my adult life and am ─ admittedly ─ a bit of a princess. I have raised four children and been (mostly) happy in my marriage. Several years ago, my husband of thirty-two years made the decision to transition towards a more feminine identity. I continue to live with my trans partner and her freedom to choose her gender identity has created freedoms for me as well. I live as a straight woman in queer territory and this liberates me to a certain extent ─ I no longer need to live out cisgender roles (like the Wife and the Princess in Cahun’s tale), and it has emboldened me as an artist so that my work has become more exploratory, performative and personal.


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from THE UNKNOWN HEROINE series, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, 2019.

When I arrived at the OBRAS Foundation house in Renkum, Netherlands, a little over a year ago, my first thought was that this beautiful place, named after a castle, was the perfect setting to enact both the Wife and the Princess. My dear friend, writer and curator Cydney Payton, suggested that I use the architecture of the house. Luís arrived, and we worked intensely on photo-shoot after photo-shoot. Most of our previous work had been performed in more wild and natural landscapes and all had been accomplished in Portugal. Within this Dutch mansion and it’s surrounding gardens, Claude Cahun pushed me from the grave; Cydney Payton pushed me from afar; and Luís Branco pushed me right there.

Luís  and I moved through the house: the sunroom, the kitchen, the garden, the stairs, the living room, the bedroom, the study. The performances were alternately oppressive and unconstrained. Luís skillfully captured my emotions and inhibitions within these domestic spaces.


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from THE UNKNOWN HEROINE series, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, 2019.

When we finished, we had thousands of images to sort through and I returned to the U.S. with a diary or narrative text as well. Cydney helped sort the images and edit my text. Her skills as both a writer and curator were precisely what was needed. Luís did color corrections and edited photographs we’d agreed upon. I printed more than a hundred of the selected images at 6″x 9″, then printed a few that I intend to exhibit at 32″x 48″ or 80 x 120 cm. I have invited curators and friends to visit my studio to see the array of photos and texts. Their responses have been very encouraging. Many have named the image below as the “masterpiece” of the project. It was shot in the upstairs study during one of our last sessions in the Netherlands.


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from THE UNKNOWN HEROINE series, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, 2019.

I knew I wanted to make a book. I asked my stepson, Joseph Logan, a talented book designer in New York, to create the volume for me and he agreed. I was preparing the materials for him last summer but came to the realization that the project wasn’t quite where I wanted it. I put the work aside, went on to other projects and am happy I did. THE UNKNOWN HEROINE needed time to breathe.

This spring the covid pandemic forced Luís and I to postpone our major exhibit in Portugal titled  THE MIRROR BETWEEN US. You can read about this on my blog from April 1st, 2020 : https://sherrywigginsblog.com/2020/04/01/postponing-the-exhibit-the-mirror-between-us-in-portugal-and-a-narrative-posted-in-boulder-co-april-1-2020/

I have now had plenty of time to thoroughly review the texts and images for THE UNKNOWN HEROINE. In the editing process, I’ve discovered more images that should be included, and I’ve excluded others. I am confident there is a narrative between image and text that relates to Claude Cahun’s heroine and to my own life. The story is both personal and universal.


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from THE UNKNOWN HEROINE series, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, 2019.

Luís and I have had many discussions about the image selection. There are between twenty and twenty-four images that we want to produce for the book and for exhibition as well. We are in the process now of looking at images in both color and black and white.  As well as his marvelous color images, he excels at black-and-white conversion.  Above is an image we both love in color and below is one of my favorites in black and white.


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from THE UNKNOWN HEROINE series, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, 2019.

THE UNKNOWN HEROINE is moving along. The book format is a fresh challenge, something new to learn ─ very Cahunian! I expect to have all the material ready for Joseph’s preliminary book design this summer. We hope to produce THE UNKNOWN HEROINE as a book and an exhibition ready in 2021. Wish us luck.

*Cahun’s Heroines was translated into English by Norman MacAfee and published in Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren and Cindy Sherman, edited by Shelley Rice (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000). Exhibition catalogue, Grey Art Gallery, New York University, Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, 1999, 43-94


postponing the exhibit “The Mirror Between Us” in Portugal and a narrative – posted in Boulder, CO April 1, 2020

all images by Luís Filipe Branco

As I write this post I am thinking of all my friends in the global art community – in Portugal, in Brazil, in the Netherlands, in Hungary, in South Africa, in Palestine, in Denmark, in the U.K., in Canada, in Italy, in Germany, in France, in India, South Korea, in Australia, EVERYWHERE and in the US…


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Two Chairs, at Herdade da Marmeleira, 53 x 80 cm, 2015


Photographer Luís Branco and I made the above image in 2015 on the grounds of the OBRAS Foundation (Herdade da Marmeleira). I am sitting on a chair on the stone platform that is the ruin of an old house – looking out over the rolling hills towards the nearby mountain of Evoramonte. This beautiful place in the Alentejo region of Portugal has been a very special and productive place for me over the last five years.

I had planned (until just a few weeks ago) on flying to Portugal this past week to help install the large exhibit of Luís Branco and my work The Mirror Between Us / O Espelho Entre Nós in the beautiful Igreja de São Vicente in Évora and to attend the opening/inauguration that was scheduled for this coming Saturday April 4th. We have been designing and producing this exhibit for more than a year now. For the safety of all, curators Ludger van der Eerden and Carolien van der Laan of the OBRAS Foundation and Margarida Branco with the Municipality of Évora postponed the exhibit several weeks ago. Now, Portugal is shut down and the whole world is coping with the Corona virus pandemic. All the work for the exhibit is produced and in storage in Portugal. We hope to reschedule the exhibit for sometime in 2021 – oxalá / inshallah/ god willing. I hope for everyone’s health and well being now and in the future. I am writing this from the relative safety and seclusion (with my partner Jamie) of my home and studio in Boulder, Colorado.

A thought that compels me at this time is that the title for the exhibit we have planned, The Mirror Between Us, and the ideas embodied in the works themselves reflect our interconnectedness and our vulnerability as individuals and as a global community. During the current pandemic, the ability to travel and collaborate with other artists, and to exhibit in far-away places (or exhibit anywhere close by for that matter) seems like such a privilege and a treasure.

I realize for myself, personally, that the works in this exhibit (as we have planned it) document a generative and illuminating period of my life. I have had the opportunity and the freedom to travel to Portugal multiple times and to make artwork in a supportive and enriching environment at OBRAS. I have made great friendships in Portugal with artists from across the globe. I have had the privilege to work with photographer Luís Branco and develop a remarkably fruitful collaboration. We have had tremendous encouragement and support from Carolien van der Laan and Ludger van der Eerden of the OBRAS Foundation. Luís and I have exhibited our work widely with wonderful responses in both Portugal and the US. I am alternately very sad not to complete this exhibition at this time and I am also extremely grateful for all the opportunities that have been given me.

For the rest of this post I will be showing several of the images that were selected for inclusion in The Mirror Between Us and at the same time recounting my experiences of working in Portugal over the last five years at OBRAS with my collaborator and friend Luís Branco. Truth be told writing is cathartic for me as well as part of my “artistic practice.”


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Woman Standing, Still, 120 x 80 cm, 2015


Woman Standing, Still was shot on the grounds by the castle that is located on top of the mountain of Evoramonte. This image was shot during my first trip to the OBRAS Foundaton in 2015. I had come to Portugal, inspired by the work of the remarkable conceptual artist Helena Almeida (1934-2018) who has used her body as the subject in her performative black and white photographs since the late 1960’s. I had asked Carolien van der Laan and Ludger van der Eerden (founders of the OBRAS Foundation and art residency) to introduce me to a photographer I could work with while in Portugal. They introduced me to photographer Luís Branco. We began a collaboration that has continued over the last five years and my six visits to Portugal and one to the Netherlands and many many photo-shoots and the making of 1000’s and 1000’s of images.

This black and white image, Woman Standing ,Still, is one of the first of what I call the “masterpieces” (though I prefer to use the Portuguese term “obra-prima” which is a feminine noun and reaches beyond the gendered art historical inference of “masterpiece” and my friend Antonio Pliz says this is proper usage). Luís was very aware that I was inspired by the work of Helena Almeida. Almeida, who passed away in 2018 at age 82, is tremendously respected in the Portuguese art world (and hopefully in the entire art world). Luís understood that I was not interested in traditional portraiture but in a kind of “still” performance of feminine subjectivity similar to Almeida’s. Woman Standing, Still is one of hundreds of images that Luís and I shot that day in 2015 at Evoramonte. In this “moment” Luís told me to stop and cover my face with my hair. Later when I saw Luis’ beautiful conversion of this image to black and white I knew we were on to something. In this image I become a more universal or archetypal “subject.” It is me but it is also many women – a matriarch with her feet planted firmly on the earth with the broad Alentejo sky surrounding her.

We shot hundreds and thousands of images in 2015 – in the large studio at OBRAS (Herdade da Marmeleira) and in the surrounding landscape, on top of the castle and on the grounds of Evoramonte. Luís Branco and I initiated a fluid and intuitive working style during this period.


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Woman in the Canyon of the Bells, 120 x 80 cm, 2016


In the fall of 2016 I returned to OBRAS to work again with Luís Branco. I wanted to work specifically in a place called the Pego do Sino (rough translation – Canyon of the Bells). I had visited this site in 2015 with my dear friend Cydney Payton (who was also at OBRAS on my first visit in 2015) and my newly found OBRAS friends Noortje and Akiko. It is a beautiful rock canyon that is hidden and hard to access – but simply magical. There are tales of shamans and priests occupying this canyon, as well as a fierce goddess or deusa residing at the bottom of the canyon. Luís and I performed multiple photo-shoots in this location trying to get the right light and composition. The rocks drop off sharply into the deep canyon below and it is a little precarious. On our last photo-shoot in the canyon Rui Fernandes came and assisted us and we got this shot. I used the gauzy black cloth like a shroud and I did imagine a kind of death and a rebirth in this canyon as Luis shot 100’s and 100’s of images. For me this process is quite contemplative or meditative. When Luís converted this image to black and white I knew we had another “obra-prima” and that this process in the landscape was something special. We were offered the opportunity of a large exhibit of our collaborative works in a beautiful palace in Estremoz in early 2017. We worked with Carolien and Ludger and the Municipality of Estremoz to produce that exhibit titled Meeting Her Again/ Reencontrando-a. It opened in late January of 2017. Rui Fernandes of GMT shot and produced a 6 minute video for us that describes that wonderful exhibit. Here is the link to YouTube:


Meeting Her Again/ Reencontrando-a, 6 minute video by Rui Fernandes


In late September of 2017 I returned to OBRAS to work with Luís again. Our plan was to focus on the element of water during this intensive period. Our previous work had been more focused on the element of earth. I had been re-reading Gaston Bachelard’s (one of my favorite phenomenologists) Water and Dreams. Before arriving in Portugal I had had a dream or a vision (I can’t remember which?) of an oval shaped mirror. In my vision I had been standing in a river with this mirror facing out towards the river. During my first few days at OBRAS I wandered into the tiny antique store in the small village of Evoramonte (the center of my Portuguese universe) and found this simple beautiful mirror that I had “seen” in my vision. Needless to say I bought the mirror.


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River in the Mirror, 80 x 120 cm, 2017


Luís and I drove to the northern part of the Alentejo to the small village of Portagem near the more famous hilltop village of Marvão – searching for water. Our mutual friend António Tavares had instructed us on where to go and where to look (for water). The Sever River winds through Portagem. I swathed myself in white gauzy fabric and “wore” the mirror in the river. Again hundreds of images – The River in the Mirror is pretty much my “vision/dream.”


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Face Up in the Sever River, 80 x 120 cm, 2017


This image Face Up in the Sever River has both stillness and movement. The rock mirrors my head, the gauzy white cloth covers my face like a veil and swirls around the rock. I love the “upside down” viewpoint of the camera. The water was shallow in the river at that time. I lay down in the river, Luís stood directly over me and shot (100’s) of images while I faced the sky. This image brings to my mind different Pre-Raphaelite paintings of Ophelia, especially the famous one by Odilon Redon. Many of these images in the water, remind me of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings of “woman” in nature. However, I think Luís and I turn this paradigm of the male artist and his female subject around. Our process is entirely non- hierarchical, collaborative and reciprocal in all aspects.


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Canyon Encarnado, 120 x 80 cm, 2017


That same period in the fall of 2017 we returned to the Pego do Sino (near Herdade da Marmeleira), this time to the bottom of the canyon. This is a place where few humans ever go, a place for turtles and water birds and I do believe there is a deusa or goddess of the canyon who resides there. We waded up the deep canyon through pools and more shallow areas. I had a large swath of red fabric. I drug this red fabric through the water wearing it like a cape, again hundreds and hundreds of images…. But this one, Canyon Encarnado where I am pulling the wet red fabric towards me has an intensity about it. It is as if the deusa or goddess of the canyon has entered my body. In Portuguese “encarnado” has several meanings – encarnado refers to something ‘made flesh,’ it implies the embodiment in the form of a person – of an idea, or of a religious ideal, or a divine spirit. Encarnado also refers to the color red. It can also refer to a spirit possessing someone.


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Dying Waters at Santa Susana, 80 x 120 cm, 2017


We also ventured to the southern Alentejo to the small village of Santa Susana in 2017. There is, under normal conditions, a very large reservoir close to the village of Santa Susana. In the fall of 2017 there was a severe drought in much of southern Portugal. The reservoir was almost completely empty, the earth that was normally covered by water was cracked and like a dry sponge, the small amount of brackish water was full of dead and dying fish. Here again we took hundreds of images, the apocalyptic scenery was remarkably photogenic and the fragility of the situation unnerving. In Dying Waters at Santa Susana I walk across the dry landscape towards the receding water (if you look closely you can see the dead fish).

I returned last April of 2019 to OBRAS Portugal to work again with Luís Branco. I had never been to Portugal in the spring; my previous trips had all been in the fall or winter. The fields were a verdant green. I brought with me some different fabrics – a long swath of translucent red fabric and a large amount of voile fabric that is roughly the color of my flesh, also a nude or flesh colored dress.


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Woman Rising, 80 x 53 cm, 2019


We began shooting on the path that leads from the top of Evoramonte and the castle down to Herdade da Marmeleira. I had walked down this path in 2015 with Ludger, Cydney, Rachel and Akiko. I had taken a photo of this arched stone oak tree and had it in my “mind” ever since. Luís and I started shooting in the early morning light, with the flash and without the flash – 100s of images. This image above is titled Woman Rising. It reminds me of Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Theresa.


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Shepherd’s Umbrella, 80 x 53 cm, 2019


No one else seems to like this image as much as I do. It is strange and almost funny but also intense and sad? I find it especially poignant now. In this image, Shepherd’s Umbrella, the sumptuous green environment near the Pego do Sino is the background for my body, the translucent red fabric and the big black umbrella – my “coverings”. It was stormy and rainy and I had purchased this umbrella in Estremoz – which was literally a traditional Alentejo shepherd’s umbrella beautifully crafted of wood and black canvas. I think there is a feeling of total vulnerability in this image – neither the sheer red fabric nor the large umbrella can protect me.


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Primavera I, 53 x 80 cm, 2019


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Primavera II, 53 x 80 cm, 2019


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Primavera III, 53 x 80 cm, 2019


I love this series of images Primavera I, II, III even though the flesh colored fabric against the emerald green fields is kind of creepy and weird, or maybe because of that. We shot these in the fields surrounding Herdade da Marmeleira. It is as if a strange woman / being is emerging or being born from the folds of pinkish nudish fabric in the springtime fields with the stormy sky above.


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Seat at Evoramonte , 80 x 120 cm, 2019

When Carolien van der Laan saw this image above for the first time, Seat at Evoramonte, she said that it looks like one of Alberto Giacometti’s drawings of his mother (I love Giacometti’s drawings, it is the sense of space). This image is one of 100’s of images we took during our last photo-shoot in Portugal in April 2019. It was a misty and atmospheric morning on the top of the mountain at Evoramonte. This is a special place and I think Seat at Evoramonte is another “obra-prima.”

I am so thankful for the opportunities to make and exhibit this work and all the support offered by the OBRAS Foundation and the Municipality of Evora to reschedule this exhibition hopefully for the spring of 2021. Again – oxalá/ inshallah/ god willing.

ALSO!! Cydney Payton’s beautiful essay about Luís Branco and my work titled Mirror Image is posted on my recent blog post of March 21st and you can also download the pdf here: Essay by Payton about Wiggins Branco_Mirror Image