UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

New cuts, dark continents : Hannah Höch’s "From an Ethnographic Museum" Gatto, Stella Maria


Between the years 1924-1934, Berlin dada artist Hannah Höch (1889-1978) created the collage series From an Ethnographic Museum. The work comprises twenty sheets with cut-out images of modern women’s bodies alongside African and Oceanic tribal objects. The result is a collection of small, ambiguous totemic-like figures. Through the series, Höch captures the landscape of the Weimar Republic, particularly the inseparability of primitivism and ethnography from the moment’s psychoanalytic discourse. This thesis argues in part that From an Ethnographic Museum grapples with the ways in which the discipline of psychoanalysis contributed to constructs of gender and race as monolithic Other. By analyzing several works from Höch’s series in detail, comparing them to various other dada and surrealist works, as well as exploring the connections between psychoanalysis, dada, gender, race, and ethnography in Berlin at the edge of the Second World War, I examine how From an Ethnographic Museum navigates its way through multiple discourses in new and jarring ways via the gesture of the “cut.” This thesis further traces the ways in which psychoanalysis gained a wide audience in Berlin. A close reading of From an Ethnographic Museum sheds light on the role of psychoanalytic discourse and ethnography at this tense historical moment, and how gender and race were perceived during the Weimar Republic. Rather than treating Höch’s aesthetic choices in her collages as distinct operations, the series, through the gestures of the cut, shows that political arrangements are not separate in their discourses from aesthetic ones.

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