Nancy Cunard

As the Mersey lights up in celebration this weekend, Cunard will be the name on everyone’s lips and the stately British shipping magnate, Samuel Cunard, the face on everyone’s mind. Yet nearly a century after its founding, as Cunard liners spanned the Atlantic, Samuel’s great-great granddaughter was steaming through the continent, waging war against the prejudice and injustice of her generation.

Shunning British high society for a life of “debauched” Parisian Bohemia, Nancy Cunard was no stranger to scandal. The avant-garde circles she moved in were outrageously radical, her relationship with jazz musician Henry Crowder flagrantly interracial and her brazen sexuality utterly contemptible. Yet the Cunard heiress wasn’t one to linger on the “indecency” of things, prising open instead the spaces between how things are said to be and how things should really be.

Nancy Cunard by Barbra Ker-Seymer

Her belief in “the sacred mission of art,” as well as commitment to liberating society from bourgeois conventions, is perhaps what drew her in to Surrealist circles. Amongst the avant-garde she found her place, pouring out scintillating poetry of her own while at the same time proving to be the camera’s Muse. A prototype of the Jazz Age beauty, her svelte figure, kohl-rimmed eyes and arms dripping with jangling African bangles were irresistible to the photographer’s eye.

Her face is found in one of Man Ray’s most famous portrait photographs. With her arms draped around her neck, the bangles that earned her a signature ‘barbaric look’ style are as much the main focus as she. Renowned fashion photographer Cecil Beaton too sought to immortalise the allure of this racy flapper icon, staging her fierce gaze against elaborate backdrops. Yet it is British photographer Barbara Ker-Seymer who captured the intensity of the heiress’ persona, lips pursed and eyes piercing, adding a commanding legacy to the “femme fatale” figure so often depicted.

Nancy Cunard by Cecil Beaton

Directing this towards the world’s injustice, she strove to overturn prevalent notions of racial hierarchy, to reveal them as nothing more than an arbitrary, Eurocentric sense of reality. Bringing together a collection of writings by the likes of Langston Hughes, Samuel Beckett, W.E.B. Du Bois and Zora Neale Hurston, Nancy Cunard published Negro: An Anthology, an endeavour to reveal the atrocious realities of racial discrimination.

Nancy Cunard and Henry Crowder by Man Ray

Her unyielding passion for the arts is evident in the way she incorporated her own collections into her persona. Photographed by Jacques-Andre Boiffard, her ivory bangles are laid out like a prized display inside the private realm of her home. Indeed, in Man Ray’s photograph of the controversial Cunard-Crowder couple, her bangles are the only reference necessary to locate her unmistakably within the shot. It is this passion which led her on a determined campaign to safeguard the Liverpool Museum collections, winning support to help rebuild and restore the museum that had been left in ruins after WWII bombing.

This afternoon, the Maritime Museum is hosting a free talk with Dr Sandeep Parmar, as she traces the Liverpool links of the iconic Nancy Cunard.

Nancy Cunard’s bangles by Jacques-Andre Boiffard

Written by Emma Seery


Nancy Cunard was originally published on Open Eye Gallery

Why We Fight
The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,—this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.

- W.E.B. Du Bois; The Souls of Black Folk

Date: 5/15/15

Song of the day: Casimir Pulaski Day- Sufjan Stevens  This song makes me cry. 

Today I learned: The first massive African American protest in US History was led by children marching against lynching in the silent protest parade. It occurred in 1917 and was organized by W.E.B. Du Bois.

This picture is from 5/20.

Something that made me smile: This story about a lady breastfeeding a stranger’s baby. Also a story about Salma Hayek breastfeeding a stranger’s baby, and that her grandmother had also done that. 

Something that made me upset: Two old men with “stellar records” were fired from their job driving a hearse because they stopped to go to the bathroom and get food while they had the body of a US war veteran in the back. The family didn’t even ask for them to be fired. As someone who has transported bodies and been to over 30 funerals, I can attest to the long hours that are sometimes involved in these situations. I have spent over 14 hours in the car on a single trip to Dallas and back- and that doesn’t take into account the time spent once we had the body at the destination.

When it comes down to it, handling human remains is their job. They should get a lunch/coffee/restroom break like everyone else, regardless of whether there happens to be a body in the back.Yes, they should have closed the curtains, but taking a minute to do things your body needs in the course of your job should not be grounds for termination- especially if the family didn’t have a problem with it and in fact, complimented them for providing a “beautiful service” as mentioned in one of the other copies of this article. The man who took and publicized the photo just cost two old men their livelihood for needing to eat/get some caffeine to stay awake and probably use the bathroom, all based on his personal sensitivites, and not even those of the family. Our world has a good deal of real problems that need to be addressed by the media. This is not one of them.

Something productive I did: I organized all of my new articles that I printed yesterday into a binder so I can more easily read through them in a meaningful order that will help me learn by building off of the knowledge in the previous article. We’ll see how designing my own curriculum on geometric morphometrics works.