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The Rise and Fall of Dadaism

Dadaism, also simply known as Dada, refers to a cultural movement mainly in the visual art sector and literature that erupted after the World War I. it also encompassed graphic design and theatre performance. Actually, Dadaism was a movement that protested against barbaric treatments that resulted from World War I as well as what the Dadaists regarded as intellectual rigidity that was oppressive in art and society in general.

The works of the movement were characterized by deliberate irrationality and opposing the prevailing art standards in that era. This is actually what influenced other movements that erupted later on, such as Surrealism.

The Advent of Dada

Dadaism is thought to have been started in the year 1917 after Hugo Ball opened Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. Apart from Ball, another major contributor to the rise of this movement was a poet known as Tristan Tzara, who published poetry as well as edited a DADA publication.

Later on active Dadaists rose in other places like Marcel Duchamp in New York and Beatrice Wood an art student in Liberia who left France during the onset of the War. Just during the same period, there was another Dadaism movement that rose in Berlin, Germany. At a lightly later time, Dadaist un-communities rose in Hanover, Paris and Cologne.

Major Contributors of Dadaism Growth

Dada movement regarded itself as “anti-art” through strong destructive elements that were also negative. It was basically a rejection of the tradition and the search for a complete freedom that was not bound by traditions. Just like Cubists, the Dadaists were interested in letter forms as concrete visual shapes. Letters were not regarded as phonetic symbols only.

Photo-montage is also said to have originated from this movement. One of the most prominent artists who used montage was Hannah Hoch. Hoch used elements from various printed sources then patched them in an absurd or random manner.

Another prominent name was Kurt Schwitters, who was technically not part of the Dadaism but had a great influence in typography during the 20th century. In the world of art, he is mostly known for collage compositions that he created from rubbish, ephemera among other materials. Within the 1923-32 period, Schwitters published a certain periodical which he called Merz, which mainly had design and typography as the publication’s major subjects. He also worked a Russian Constructivist, El Lissitzky, Dutch De Stijl artist Theo Van Doesburg known for his design and typographical work.

There was another Dadaists sub movement known as the Berlin Dadaists. Major contributors of this sub-movement were George Grosz and John Hartfield. They mainly sought to creating public awareness and promoting social changes using visual communications. Both names were very critical to the German society and politics. Hartfield used photo-montage as a weapon for spreading propaganda. He detested Nazi and Hitler to an extent that he gave himself the name Herzfelde to show his protest against militarism in Germany.

George Grosz on the other hand was a visual artist known for his satirical drawings and paintings. Grosz had a couple of publications like the Der Blutige Ernst.

The Fall of Dadaism

Despite spreading so fast, the movement was also quite unstable. Some of the artists migrated into other faction movements and ideas. During the 1921-22 period, Dadaism eventually was dissolved into another rival factions. One such faction was Surrealism which was pioneered by Andre Breton. Other factions included Socialist Realism and certain modernism forms.

By the beginning of World War II, most of the Dadaists in Europe fled into exile in the US while some suffered the wrath of Hitler who disliked the radical art represented by Dadaism. The movement became even less active after World War II which saw other movements rise in place of Dada. Today, the Cabaret Voltaire is a museum in memory of the Dada history.


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  • Ihsan Danish

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