By Claire Herndon
Hannah Hoch was a female artist that is best known for her participation in the Dada movement in Berlin, Germany from the time of WWI to the rise of the Third Reich. Hoch’s art often focused on issues of gender hypocrisies in Weimar Germany. She used photomontage, a cutting edge form of media, to create her clever images of critique. Compared to her fellow Dadaists, Hoch’s art was not considered radically political, but the real significance of her work and participation in the movement can be seen in her unique and poignant examination of social structure and hierarchy in German society.
Around 1915 Hannah Hoch became involved with Raoul Hausmann, an individual who would have a very large impact on Hoch’s artistic career. Hausmann was a Dada artist in Berlin and his relationship with Hoch would influence her to begin her own involvement with the movement. Hausmann and Hoch had a complicated if not often problematic relationship between 1915 and 1922. Hausmann remained married throughout their seven-year relationship and did not show the same level of respect and support towards Hoch’s efforts as he did for his male colleagues. Factors such as this regarding unequal views of gender and role were deeply engrained in German society and would become an important part of Hoch’s identity and the focus of her work. An example of her work that reflected the frustrations within her own life is Woman and Saturn, made in 1922. This painting presents a woman lovingly cradling an infant in the foreground with a dark and cold male figure looming over her in the background. Hoch uses red warm colors on the child and woman to show her passion and longing, while she uses dark shades of black and blue to represent the male’s disconnect and inability to relate to our female figures passion.
Dadaism was a backlash to the actions and ideas that came together to result in WWI. Dadaist demanded a complete rethinking of what art was and its function in contemporary society. This group of artists challenged all things traditional with radical stances on the politics and social structures of post-war Germany. They could make statements through their art that might have otherwise been considered too extreme at the time to express through words. Dadaist adopted photomontage because it provided the perfect modern medium to mix social and political relevancy with jest to expose irrationality and alter the viewers’ perceptions of the traditional. These artists would collect images from journal, magazines, advertisement and newspaper and piece the images back together to create an entirely different concept.
Hannah Hoch was one of the only recognized females in the male dominated and thoroughly machismo Dada movement. Much of Hoch’s artistic inspiration derived from her personal experiences of gender inequality and rampant sexism present in German society. She was particularly focused on the modern concept of the “New Woman,” a repetitive theme throughout much of her work. This new woman was associated with urban nightlife, sexual freedom and progressive independence. Hoch was interested in presenting the concepts relationship to consumerism and the hypocrisy of the advertised idea of this modern female figure compared against the less than ideal reality for actual German women. Though women had indeed gained certain new rights such as the right to vote, this progress was undermined by the unstable economy of the Weimar Republic that did not make it possible for women to truly take advantage of their newfound freedoms.
Hoch presents her critical opinion of the function of marriage in modern society in her photomontage The Bourgeois Wedding Couple. The subject of a disconnected and emotionless male is present again in the aloof groom figure. Hoch saw marriage as a means of social status for women in middle-class Weimar Germany. The head of the bride figure is removed and replaced with the head of an infant. Hoch often mutilates and removes the eyes and faces of her subjects to signify their lack of identity as they are merely playing out their social role. Another example of this kind of mutilation as it relates to gender roles can be seen in her photomontage The Beautiful Girl, made in 1920. A modern female hairstyle is placed above the headless body of a female in a bathing suit. These clues, such as the hairstyle and modern fashions of the females in Hoch’s works, are significant in Hoch’s specific interest in gender issues in regards to the New Woman.
The manipulation of heads and bodies is a distinctive feature throughout Hannah Hoch’s work involving photomontage. Photomontage was the perfect medium for Dadaists radical social and political massages because pictures were taken from sources that would be seen as culturally relevant and reflective of the times, such as newspapers, magazines and advertisement. Hoch disassembled these cultural figures and pieced them back together in ways that challenged society’s common perception of such figures. Heads of political leaders could be placed upon the bodies of animals, infants or scantily clad females and that juxtaposition forces the brain to interact with the piece and make sense of the seemingly absurd connection. In her piece The Coquette created between 1923 and 1925, Hoch presents a seated woman in expensive-looking modern fashion with a line of suitors ready to wait on her hand and foot. The woman’s head is replaced with a hauntingly sharp of an anonymous male. Her suitors appear as a young child with the head of a dog, followed by a dog with the head of a man.
Despite her contributions in the pioneering of photomontage and her clever and strong additions to Dada art, Hannah Hoch was often minimized or overlooked completely, even by those within her own movement. Dadaist supported the idea of gender equality in theory, but their actions showed a very different reality. Hoch received criticism and condescension from Hands Richter who stated her greatest contribution to the dada movement as being “the sandwiches, beer, and coffee she managed somehow to conjure up despite the shortage of money”, as well as from Hausmann who went as far as to suggest Hoch get a job to support his artistic endeavors.
Though Hannah Hoch may not have received the level of attention she deserved during and following the Dada movement in Germany, her contributions are now being recognized. Art scholars are gaining more and more interest and insight into the significance of Hoch’s work in the context of Dadaism and post-war German society, as well as her influences on future artists especially in regards to feminist art.
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