Known for her incisively political collages and photomontages (a form she helped pioneer), Hannah Höch appropriated and recombined images and text from mass media to critique popular culture, the failings of the Weimar Republic, and the socially constructed roles of women. After meeting artist and writer Raoul Hausmann in 1917, Höch became associated with the Berlin Dada group, a circle of mostly male artists who satirized and critiqued German culture and society following World War I. She exhibited in their exhibitions, including the First International Dada Fair in Berlin in 1920, and her photomontages received critical acclaim despite the patronizing views of her male peers. She reflected, “Most of our male colleagues continued for a long while to look upon us as charming and gifted amateurs, denying us implicitly any real professional status.”1
The technical proficiency and symbolic significance of Höch’s compositions refute any notion that she was an “amateur.” She astutely spliced together photographs or photographic reproductions she cut from popular magazines, illustrated journals, and fashion publications, recontextualizing them in a dynamic and layered style. She noted that “there are no limits to the materials available for pictorial collages—above all they can be found in photography, but also in writing and printed matter, even in waste products.”2
Höch explored gender and identity in her work, and in particular she humorously criticized the concept of the “New Woman” in Weimar Germany, a vision of a woman who was purportedly man’s equal. In Indian Dancer: From an Ethnographic Museum she combined images of a Cameroonian mask and the face of silent film star Maria Falconetti, topped with a headdress comprised of kitchen utensils. Höch’s amalgamation of a traditional African mask, an iconic female celebrity, and tools of domesticity references the style of 1920s avant-garde theater and fashion and offers an evocative commentary on feminist symbols of the time.
Although the Berlin Dada group fractured in the early 1920s, Höch continued to create socially critical work. She was banned from exhibiting during the Nazi regime, but she remained in Germany during World War II, retreating to a house outside Berlin where she continued to make work. In 1945, after the end of the war, she began exhibiting again. Before her death in 1978, her significant contribution to the German avant-garde was recognized through retrospectives of her work in Paris and Berlin in 1976.
Höch’s bold collisions and combinations of fragments of widely circulated images connected her work to the world and captured the rebellious, critical spirit of the interwar period, which felt to many like a new age. Through her radical experimentations, she developed an essential artistic language of the avant-garde that reverberates to this day.