Hannah Höch at the Whitechapel Gallery

4Words by Billie Jenkins

Overlaying social and fashion imagery with bold abstracted shapes, Hannah Höch’s work make strong, often political statements. They deal with subjects as diverse as feminism, sexuality, race and a range of issues related to society in GermanY around WWI & II. As a key member of the Dada movement, and contemporaries including Kurt Schwitters and George Grosz, this is a must see for collage enthusiasts. From a style perspective the collages are rich, vibrant and exciting. They also offer a satisfying glance at the techniques from collages of that era, and the material that was fed into them is itself intriguing. The people, objects and texts included in the scenes are a kind of miniature history lesson in the themselves. The talking point of the show however is the intelligent and often funny narratives offered about identity and culture. Shadows are cut into card overpowering a portrait, groups are overlaid with items of African ritual, women’s modern faces are combined with traditional nudes and abstract skirts. There is a pleasing recurring theme of the mouth being replaced. One particularly bold image shows the mouth of a Black woman, portrayed in a way that suggests she is a nurse or sister, pasted over with the mouth of a glamorous white woman. It is collages ability to make these simple and clear statements about the world that I find so mesmerising. Stealing images we are already familiar with, they unsettle and rewrite those myth pictures sell to reveal a new, sometimes more accurate tale.

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