On a rainy weekend, nothing appeals to me more than a visit to an exhibition – after having first, of course, indulged in a spot of brunch! So I found myself a few Sundays ago (before the arrival of Spring) at the Hannah Höch retrospective at Whitechapel gallery.
A German artist who lived from 1889-1978, Höch is best known for being a member of Berlin’s Dada movement and a key driving force in the development of 20th century photomontage. And for good reason: whilst the exhibition includes works from throughout her entire career, it was her earlier Dadaist collages which I felt were the most intriguing and powerful pieces.
Born out of negative reaction to World War I, the Dada movement questioned and resisted the prevailing artistic ideals. Höch herself did this by splicing together images taken from fashion magazines into collages which challenged gender stereotypes and conventional concepts of beauty. I particularly liked her series ‘From an Ethnographic Museum’, which combined fragments of pop culture images with traditional masks and objects to show that there are many different interpretations of what is female and feminine.
Many of the themes Höch explored remain relevant today. It could be argued that we still live in a culture dominated by advertising and a mass media that portrays only one ideal of beauty and femininity. But it struck me that her strongest legacy is in challenging us to constantly look at things differently and not automatically take the ‘accepted’ prevailing point of view.
It can often be all too easy to forget that there are other viewpoints to our own; that our way is not the only, or necessarily ‘normal’, way of thinking about things. Looking through different lenses enriches our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. If we want to really understand the culture we live in, it’s vital that we continually do this.