The European Dada movement of the early 20th century was long regarded as a male preserve in which women were relegated to footnotes or mentioned only as the wives, girlfriends, or sisters of Dada men.
Highlighting the interventions of Dada’s women
Dr Ruth Hemus’ ground-breaking research challenged that assumption. Her research and publications centre on five individuals, Emmy Hennings, Sophie Taeuber, Hannah Höch, Suzanne Duchamp and Céline Arnauld, who made important interventions across fine art, literature, and performance in Zurich, Berlin and Paris. Their techniques and approaches were characteristic of Dada’s rebellion against aesthetic and cultural conventions, but their work also proves them to have been innovators, not imitators.
Impact on curators
Hemus’ book Dada’s Women (2009) has directly informed and shaped the curation of exhibitions in Switzerland, Italy, Norway and the U.K. Her research has also provided the source material for mixed-media outputs by contemporary artists, commissioned for museums and galleries in Zurich, Glasgow and Newcastle. In the context of public discussions around women in the arts, and greater acknowledgement of the work of female artists in major exhibitions, these outcomes are especially timely. A recognition of both historical and contemporary women artists has been paramount.
Collaborations with art practitioners
Hemus’ research has inspired and shaped the work of artists and led to a partnership with Sonia Allori, a composer, musician and music therapist, and Vaia Paziana, a visual artist with strong community links. Their collaborative artworks include a mixed-media installation at the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle, a performance of music and words at Wasps Studio, Glasgow, and digital animation with soundtrack for a festival co-organised by the Cabaret Voltaire (Zurich) and Central St. Martin’s. Principles of accessibility and participation underpin their project.
Reaching out with education
Building on attention commanded by the Dada centenary in 2016, Hemus delivered public lectures at The Cabaret Voltaire (founding place of Dada in Zurich) and The University of Zurich. More recently (2019) she spoke at The Academy of Arts in Oslo (KHIO) and gave a talk as part of a weekend of cabaret events at the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter.
For the past few years Hemus has co-organised workshops for school pupils, university students, and community groups as part of Royal Holloway’s associate partnership with Tate Exchange, London. In interactive sessions participants produce chance poetry and visual collages, offering a novel way of learning about the practices of women of the avant-garde. Creative and engaged outcomes bear witness to the relevance of Dada’s women one hundred years on.
Photograph by Vaia Paziana