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Lady Dada - Hannah Hoch, Female Artist
Born Joannes Hoch in 1889, Gotha in Germany, the daughter of an Insurance executive. In 1912 she left home, moving to Berlin and enrolled on a course for Applied Arts. Here she studied calligraphy, embroidery, fabric and wallpaper design and graphic arts.
In 1916 she started working for one of Germany’s largest publishing houses, Ullstein Verlag, within the handicrafts division. This gave her access too much of her source material, while creating lace patterns and tablecloth designs for the companies “womens” magazines. Her artwork would explore the boundaries between the popular culture and icons of the day and place them in a contemporary art setting.
The Dada Years
A year earlier she had met and started a relationship with Dadaist activist Rauol Hausmann and it was her time in this fiery, tempestuous affair that she developed her photomontage style. Despite the Dadaist statement of revolutionary progress and their nods towards feminist liberation, it was with great reluctance that Hoch was accepted into the group. Hans Richter describing her as a hostess, “the girl who procured sandwiches, beer and coffee, on a limited budget”.
Hoch’s style meanwhile continued to evolve; with disjointed, decapitated and juxtaposed images created from magazine cuttings. She became master of these disturbing and compelling montages.
Hoch's piece “Cut With the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany (1919-20)” was included in the 1st International Dada Fair. She clearly expresses her distrust and suspicion of Weimar Germany in this and pieces like “Dada Panorama” (1919).
By 1924 the group had pretty much dissolved itself, Hannah now, freed from the political, anti-art rhetoric of the Dada manifesto, went on to produce work of a more feminist nature. Exploring the themes common to the periodicals she had worked on. Her work mocks the happy housewives of Die Dame and BIZ magazines, and in the Ethnographic Museum exhibition examines ethnicity and colonialism. Using the images of smiling domestic bliss against ethnic masks and sculpture to produce hauntingly stark pictures.
In 1926 she moved to The Hague and began a love affair with Dutch female writer, Til Burgman. She continued to work, having a successful show in Amsterdam and further questioning sexuality, race and politics of the period. The couple moved back to Berlin in 1929 and remained together up until 1935. However Nazi Germany was around the corner and cultural conformity was expected.
The War and beyond
During this time Hoch kept her head down, she married pianist Kurt Matthies in 1938, divorcing in 1944, spending the war years in a quiet Berlin suburb. She worked designing book jackets, producing safe images of plants and animals, making sure not to attract attention to herself. The effect of blending in and producing the traditional did not leave her after the war. Much of Hoch’s work from then onwards is less controversial, neutral, without controversy. Effectively becoming one of the hausfraus she deplored before the war.
Her life was full of contradictions her bisexuality, lovers, marriage, abortions, her politically charged and progressive artworks and her love of traditional crafts. She championed women’s rights and racial understanding and designed tea towels. A complex and creative person whose effects and processes are still felt in the art rooms of today. She was so much more than, as an obituary described her on her death in 1978 as “the blonde bobbed, androgynous muse of the bad boys Dada club of 1919”.
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