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Exhibition in Berlin explores Dadaist responses to non-European cultures
Installation view of Dada Africa. Dialogue with the Other at Berlinische Galerie, 2016, © Photo: Ralf Herzig.

BERLIN.- Dada is 100 years old. The Dadaists and their artistic articulations were a significant influence on 20th-century art. Marking this centenary, the exhibition “Dada Africa. Dialogue with the Other” is the first to explore Dadaist responses to non-European cultures and their art. It shows how frequently the Dadaists referenced non-Western forms of expression in order to strike out in new directions. The springboard for this centenary project was Dada’s very first exhibition at Han Coray’s gallery in Zurich. It was called “Dada. Cubistes. Art Nègre”, and back in 1917 it displayed works of avant-garde and African art side by side. In five sections, “Dada Africa” broadens the focus on this dialogue between Dadaist output and African, Asian, American and Oceanic artefacts. The exhibition and catalogue were created in partnership with Museum Rietberg in Zurich.

Reacting to the First World War, Dada challenged bourgeois norms and cultural values to the core. Forms of artistic expression had to change radically. The art and culture of “non-Europe” was seen as offering a coherent alternative. Breaking with the aesthetic past was associated by the Dadaists with the idea of social renewal. Expressionists and Cubists had already taken an interest in the formal elements of non-European artefacts in their quest to develop a new visual vocabulary. The Dadaists went beyond this by merging what was seen as “the Other” with home-grown formats. Marcel Janco drew, for example on objects from Cameroon to make his Dada pictures and masks. Sophie Taeuber-Arp, for her part, was struck by the expressive power of indigenous works from North America and Southern Africa. Tristan Tzara took literary cues for his “Poèmes nègres” from African and Australian texts, while Hugo Ball borrowed input from Oceania for his richly creative use of materials.

The Dadaists launched their assault on conventional views of art with cross-genre performances consisting of music, text and dance. The pseudo-African sound poems, the rhythmic drumming and the masked dances – spontaneous, vibrant and primal – were intended to shock the audience and to overcome the divide between the show and its audience. At the same time, the “primitive” flavour tested the minds and bodies of the performers to their limits. The exhibition retraces these enactments with the aid of historical photographs, documents and acoustic specimens.

Hannah Höch’s collages from her series “From an Ethnographic Museum” are another distillation point in this exhibition. In works with a grotesque feel, the Dada artist combines depictions of non-Western artefacts with others of “white” physicality. Now these collages are displayed alongside the original objects from Africa, Asia and Oceania, still in the Museum Rietberg collection, from which Höch borrowed her motifs – just one example of the unusually fruitful collaboration between two institutions with very different profiles.

The exhibition describes a historical situation. Wherever use is made of racist and colonialist terms such as “primitive”, “negro” or “nègre”, they are taken from historical quotations and have been placed in inverted commas. In the early 20th century, these concepts were applied to societies in Africa and also Oceania, which were regarded as primeval.

Artists: Approx. 120 works (collage, assemblage, masks, sculptures, documentary material, photographic reproductions, sound installations) from Africa, Oceania and Asia, the Master of Buafle, as well as Hans Arp, Johannes Baader, Carl Einstein, George Grosz, Heinz Harald, John Heartfield, Raoul Hausmann, Erich Heckel, Hannah Höch, Richard Huelsenbeck, Marcel Janco, Man Ray, Hans Richter, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Robert Sennecke, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Tristan Tzara.

Today's News

August 15, 2016

Exhibition in Berlin explores Dadaist responses to non-European cultures

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