From an Ethnographic Museum is a series of seventeen photomontages executed between 1924 and 1930 by Hannah Höch after a visit to an ethnographic museum in Leiden, the Netherlands. She cited this visit as an influence in the conception of the series since she felt inspired by the pedestals and masks she saw in the museum.
Höch is famous for her satirical and disturbing photomontages with focus on the society’s situation in Weimar Germany. Her works were constructed with a combination of political commentary, gender issues, questions of modern life and a critique of the bourgeoisie presented from the perspective of a woman.
To create this series, she juxtaposed images of women from fashion magazines with reproductions of tribal art and masks among others in a deliberately and even enigmatic meeting of cultures. The result is a weird, hybrid figure presented to us as if on display. The incorporation of materials from other cultures were used as the point of departure for a critique on the status of women in her contemporary German society.
The series have been understood as ironic comments of the treatment received by women in the Weimar Germany. At the time, women were seen as infantile and inferior, being equated to what the society considered as primitive people, such as those of the tribes in Africa and Oceania.
With elements of an Indian dancer assembled with references to cinema, African’s sculpture and the domestic sphere, Höch creates an image that seems to invoke an androgynous figure of a 15th century French martyr embodied by a glamorous film star, crowned as a domestic goddess. This composition tries to present the complexity of the modern femininity. The reference to cinema is an image of the actress Renée Falconetti in a publicity for the film The Passion of Joan of Arc of Carl Theodor Dryer (1928); part of the actress’s face was replaced by the image of an wooden mask from Cameroon, and on the top of her head it is a crown made of spoons and knives.
It is one of the best-known pieces in this series. It is a photomontage that utilises a photo of a pregnant working-class woman. The face of the woman is hidden with a mask from the Kwakwaka’wakw or the Kwakuti Indian tribe, on the Northwest Coast. On the bottom of the mask there is a woman’s mouth and a single eye over one of the eye holes. This image is part of an ongoing critic of a law outlawing abortion in Weimar Germany, known as the Paragraph 218.
- The geometric backgrounds in some of the pieces recall the work of a modernist group of architects called as Dutch De Stijl, with which Höch was associated.