Collection 1880s–1940s

Hannah Höch. Indian Dancer: From an Ethnographic Museum (Indische Tänzerin: Aus einem ethnographischen Museum). 1930

Cut-and-pasted printed paper and metallic foil on paper, 10 1/8 x 8 7/8" (25.7 x 22.4 cm). Frances Keech Fund. © 2024 Hannah Höch / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Germany

Curator, Jodi Hauptman: Hannah Höch was the only female member of the Berlin Dada group founded around 1918. In responding to the horror of World War I, Dada artists began to make works that really challenged every convention of art making. Many of their works were made with found objects, especially found photographs.

Jodi Hauptman: The Ethnographic Museum was a series of works, and in the series Höch combined photographs of contemporary women with photographs of women and sculpture from non-Western cultures. In Indian Dancer, we see a photograph of a very famous actress at the time. The short haircut reflected the short haircut of the modern German New Woman, as she was called, who could go out and get a job and get her hair cut and go dancing and do all that. But Hannah Höch sees this new woman as still somehow confined in a variety of ways.

On top of the photograph Höch has cut out part of a mask, so the female figure here is unable to speak because she's got this kind of frozen mouth. And then she's wearing a crown, so you might think that she is some kind of royalty. But at the same time it's a little bit of a joke, because she's crowned with the emblems of domesticity, forks and spoons and knives, the stereotypical drudgery of a housewife. So you might say that we see many layers of femininity here. We see a film star, a modern woman, a non-Western woman, all combined in a single image.