Anti war art from Dadaism to today


This video says about itself:

The story of John Heartfield, the father of photomontage and a key figure in the Dada movement. Using archive material and reconstructions, this program reflects on the significant changes in East Germany from the start of Heartfield’s career in 1916 to the present day.

From British daily The Morning Star:

The heart of the matter

(Monday 25 June 2007)

EXHIBITION: Blairaq
Leonard Street Gallery, London EC2A

LEGACY: See some brilliant anti-war photomontages at Blairaq.

MICHAL BONCZA uncovers some astounding montages by anti-war artists from the first world war to today.

THE old Dadaist post-first world war rage at the waste of capitalism and its wars rarely had, since the days of the unsurpassed antifascist propagandist John Heartfield and practitioners of his comprehensive political vision, sense of purpose and visual skill.

Communists George Grosz, feminist Hannah Höch [and] Heartfield – who changed his name from Helmut Herzfeld as a deliberate protest when he heard the anti-British German slogan “God punish England” – were inspired by images collaged together in the trenches by soldiers trying to outsmart censorship to denounce the horrors that surrounded them.

With the rise of fascism, political photomontage was elevated to an art form in its own right.

As a medium, it offered limitless possibilities for an instant visual response, which could be both eloquently didactic and aesthetically highly accomplished.

The legendary Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung – Workers Illustrated Newspaper – covers are the best testimony to this as its circulation reached 180,000 by 1924.

A classical image is Heartfield’s powerfully ironic Millions Stand Behind Me (The Real Meaning of Hitler’s Salute), showing the nazi leader as a puppet financed by big capital.

Equally powerful and enduring is The Meaning of Geneva, Where Capital Lives, There Peace Cannot Live! with a listless dove staked on a bayonet.

Produced as a protest against the killing of 15 workers during a demonstration in Geneva, which was the home of that forerunner of the UN, the League of Nations, it features the darkened nazi flag flying with the League of Nations HQ looming sinisterly in the background.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Peter Kennard continued and developed this tradition by creating defining and memorable images for the anti-nuclear protest movement in Britain lead by the CND.

Constable‘s Haywain, converted to carry a battery of cruise missiles, is the most enduring.

His work prompted Ken Livingstone to say: “In hitting at the heart of the matter, Kennard gives us hope.”

The rage of the two million who filled central London in 2003 to protest against the treacherous attack on Iraq is fittingly evoked in Kennard’s contribution to Santa’s Ghetto 2006, the seasonal nonconformist showpiece.

The smug Tony Blair is savaged in a brilliant photomontage as he vaingloriously snaps himself on a mobile phone camera surrounded by the horrific fires of the Iraq war. Not often is an image produced more worthy of the proverbial thousand words.

Although present in a centrally placed assemblage, the most recent work differs significantly from it pictorially and in size.

Made to resemble multilayered billboard displays that have been scraped at, revealing images hidden by the top layers, it requires attentive scanning of detail.

Some are broad canvases, others meticulous montages of pages from British and US newspaper coverage of this newest of imperial adventures.

Cat Picton-Phillips, who collaborated on the project, says: “It may be difficult in 2007 to outrage, but it’s simple to be subversive.”

True. But the broad canvases, by choosing a more complex communication, lose perhaps some of the succinct bite of old.

Not to be regretted though, as the Heartfield, Grosz and Kennard mantle of urgent political subversion could well be still safe inside the spray cans of the Kennard admirer Banksy and his photomontage based “stencilism.”

Shows until July 12 at the Leonard Street Gallery, 73A Leonard Street, London EC2A 4QS.

Peter Kennard interview on this exhibition: here.

Hannah Höch: here.

Photomontages by Theodore Harris: here.

Resolution on war and socialist unity at the 1907 Stuttgart conference in Germany: here.

Dadaist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927): here.

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7 thoughts on “Anti war art from Dadaism to today

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