English Writer, Editor and Publisher, Political Activist, Anarchist and Poet
Nancy Clara Cunard (1896 – 1965) was an English writer, editor and publisher, political activist, anarchist and poet. She was born into the British upper class but strongly rejected her family’s values, devoting much of her life to fighting racism and fascism. She became a muse to some of the 20th century’s most distinguished writers and artists, including Aldous Huxley, Tristan Tzara, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, James Joice, Man Ray and many more.
In 1920 Nancy Cunard moved to Paris, where she became involved with literary Modernism, Surrealism and Dada. Much of her published poetry dates from this period.
Pictured by Man Ray, in 1926
Cunard’s style informed by her devotion to the artifacts of African culture was startlingly unconventional. The large-scale jewelry she favored, crafted of wood, bone and ivory, the natural materials used by native crafts people, was provocative and controversial. The bangles she wore on both arms snaking from wrist to elbow were considered outré adornments, which provoked media attention, visually compelling subject matter for photographers of the day. She was often photographed wearing her collection, those of African inspiration and neckpieces of wooden cubes, which paid homage to the concepts of Cubism. At first considered the bohemian affectation of an eccentric heiress, the fashion world came to legitimize this style as avant-garde, dubbing it the “barbaric look.” Prestigious jewelry houses such as Boucheron created their own African inspired cuff of gold beads, and eschewing costly gemstones incorporated into the finished creation green malachite and a striking purple mineral, purpurite. They exhibited this high-end piece at the Exposition Coloniale in 1931.