Hannah Höch (1889-1978) was a photomontage artist most distinguished for her role in the Berlin Dada movement and her innovative techniques with photomontage. Her politically charged satirical collages ridiculed the failings of the Weimar government, but also fed into the early feminist movement, opposing stereotypical gender roles, promoting women’s suffrage and empowering women to explore their own creativity in the applied arts. Hannah herself faced adversity and was marginalized as the only woman within the Dada movement, and was not treated as an equal contributor by her peers.
Born Anna Therése Johanne Höch in Gotha, Germany, Höch moved to Berlin and attended the School of Applied Arts in 1912. The school was closed at the onslaught of World War I, but in 1915 she was able to rejoin her education, and studied graphic arts at the School of the Royal Museum of Applied Arts. It was also here where she met Raoul Hausmann, fellow member of the Dada movement, and for a period of time, her lover. Höch and Hausmann both experimented and helped extend the technique of photomontage by appropriating popular press images into fine art. Höch’s pieces utilize metaphorical imagery to illustrate her message and satirical jabs at the hypocrisy of mainstream European society, whose bourgeois leadership and middle class led the country to disaster in WWI.
Her most famous piece, Cut With the Kitchen Knife Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany (1919-1920) was featured at the First International Dada Fair in 1920, and was favorably received. The piece is a dynamic collage of images cut out and pasted from newspapers and magazines, as well as some personal inclusions, such as the small image of Hausmann, and Lenin and Stalin, showing her inclinations toward communist parties at the time. The nonsensical fragmentation of images within the collage makes this piece quintessentially Dada, and the fragmentation itself acts as a microcosm for the breakdown of society and the government post-WWI. Cogs, wheels and various machinery eclipse around the image, symbolic of the government as “the machine,” as well as calling light to the industrialization and militarization that was transforming the European landscape.
The upper right corner is labeled “Die anti dada,” mocking prominent political figures that represent the corruption and bourgeois powers that sent Germany to war. The bottom right, labeled “DADA,” includes images from her inner circle of fellow Dadaists, including John Heartfield and Raoul Hausmann. Höch included a small picture of herself overlain on a map illustrating the advancement of women’s suffrage throughout Europe, expressing her commitment to the feminist movement. The left side of the image is dedicated to the absurd, with rhetorical “dada propaganda” encouraging you to “Join Dada!”
Hannah Höch’s process isolated the print images from their original context, allowing her to formulate her own cutting message. Höch’s innovative technique of using appropriated images from popular print publications and photographs has coined her and Hausmann as pioneers in the proliferation of photomontage in the arts. Photomontage was a radically new process, unique to the Berlin Dada movement, but has since inspired countless artists.
Boucher, Madeleine. “Art or Craft?: Hannah Höch’s Collages Embraced the Conflict Between Art and Craft, Dada and Commercialism.” Artsy. Artsy, 14 Oct. 2014. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
Smarthistoryvideos. “Hannah Höch, Cut with the Kitchen Knife, 1919-20.” YouTube. YouTube, 02 Oct. 2011. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
Souter, Anna. “Hannah Höch Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works.” The Art Story. The Art Story Contributors, 2016. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.