In the middle of the 20th century, Europe and the greater Western world found itself in an entropical state filled with political turmoil, war, and economic inequality— a direction that would bulldoze ahead all the way to the modern day where these themes reign supreme in our societal landscape. Yet in the face of major societal change and a cloth of political suppression forced onto the mouths of radicals and revolutionaries opposed to the new world came Dadaism, a unique form of art focused on absurdity, irrationality, and making a mockery of the injustices of the modern world.
In response to the sinful reality of World War I, the genre of art known as Dada was erected from the graves of the, at the time, shattered Western world. To contrast the public sentiment at the time, Dada rejected the reality of war and poked fun at it, all while continuing the centuries’ work of exposing the growing power imbalance within the fast-growing capitalist nations of the west. War, capitalism, bigotry, and much more the victims of Dada’s endless campaign against societal evils, all through an obscene and unorthodox method. Combining cubism, surrealism, and many other experimental works of art, Dada was created to be nothing less more than confusing— abstractions of art that were considered lewd and obscene by the art community at the time, anything considered non anatomical or unreal shrugged off as a lower form of art.
See Nine Malice Moulds by Marcel Duchamp, a piece that at first looks like a bunch of inoffensive figures of nothingness, yet upon further inspection shows to be both a well thought out and offensive commentary on authority figures within society. With each of the niner figures meaning to represent a caricature of some authority figure, such as a police officer or fireman, the painting means to not only insult and sneer at oppressors but state the malleability of these oppressors as a cog in an oppressive system, a much deeper meaning than one may discover off first glance. Newspaper clippings pasted together into an incomprehensible mess, mustaches drawn on the Mona Lisa, dissected urinals, random assortments of shapes balanced on top of eachother; Dada seemed to be meaningless to the wide majority of people, but hidden within these perverse pieces was something special— the ability to disrupt.
Disruption had always been one of the primary goals of the Dada art movement, peeving political leaders and sneaking in quick quips about society into this chaotic canvas’, and disruption is what arose. Throughout the 20th century, hundreds of Dada artists around the world were arrested for creating art considered “disruptive of general society,”, their censorship justified under the guise of disruptive behavior when in reality their arrests were the results of political censorship. In a time where art was required to be of considered to have to be of a fine class, Dada shifted the world’s perspective to where art could be both common and influential— influential enough to draw the attention of police enforcement and influential enough to shape the minds of young European youth to the reality of the dictators that ran rampant throughout the early 20th century all the way until now. Every newspaper clipping or loose screw or stroke of a brush was another humorous disruption in some oppressive society, a guerilla war campaign against fascism and injustice, the general practices of Dada extending all the way today— the movement of Dada having liberated modern art from the exclusive shackles of the upper class.
Although the majority of Dada artists were white men, the “inferior” societal outlooks on Dada allowed the unique opportunity for women and people of color to contribute greatly to the Dada movement, allowing them to participate in art due to its perceived inferiority. Hannah Hoch, Beatrice Wood, and Mina Loy were only a few of the many great women in Dada who created some of the best pieces of the entire movement. Dada served as one of the first opportunities for women to create widely consumed pieces of art, all in a community that embraced the work of women as equal to a man’s.
Even today, you can see the effects of Dada in both art and political discourse— Dada having the long lasting effect of the normalization of addressing oppressors with an open and clear animosity, being unafraid of expressing yourself and insulting those who prove to be unjust. It isn’t for no reason that it has become so socially acceptable to go online on Twitter or any other platform and post a scathing comment or image about some dirtbag politician, and it certainly isn’t a bad thing. Dada asserted to the public that when who you’re targeting and ridiculing has done much worse than a simple mean joke or ad hominem, then you should have the right to ridicule and disrupt as much as you want— because you should always have the right to fight oppression on any battlefield, whether that is a lobbying at your local city hall or even just posting some meme you found funny on your Facebook page.
There is no reason why civility should ever come before the truth, the contrary a sad belief that seems to still be commonplace in society a century after Dada’s peak. There’s a common trend among conservative politicians and many older generations to diminish the ideas of progressives due to what they may consider unprofessional or uncivil behavior, a logical fallacy that attempts to force the idea that politics is some sort of royal affair that only the most well-endowed can participate in— a mentality that has only forever contributed to the power imbalance between the people and the elites.
In reality, politics is ultimately supposed to be a device to support the people who prop a nation up in the first place, and if the people of a nation are frustrated and upset and unsatisfied, it makes sense for politics to reflect that. Forms of communication such as art should never be gate kept behind the fantasies of higher class and civility but instead utilized by all to spread emotion and thoughts in whichever way they wish. Dada and adjacent artforms came into existence during a time of ultimate tyranny, the European continent infested with fascism and injustice, and revolutionized the way art is utilized by the masses— creating pieces that can be consumed and enjoyed by even the most common folk and at balancing itself on the fine line between utter nonsense and deeply meaningful pieces of expression. It has been essential in modern discourse, having deconstructed and disrupted social norms to make politics a game to be played by all, not simply the upper class. It has created memorable pieces of art that can be enjoyed both at face value as quick quips yet also surprisingly clever and profound declarations of values. It has created a culture of open dialogue and a culture where the common man can face his oppressors with unrelenting animosity in the face of adversity, a culture that has ultimately sparked societal advancement in the face of the evils of fascism and inequality.
Dada persists in the attitudes of perspectives, and for politics to become much more demonstrative of general sentiment, Dada deserves to grow— not just deserves to grow, but has to grow. Whether it is to pave change for the underprivileged, for the most passionate and unsatisfied, or for anyone in general, Dada must persist in the forever fight against time. In the modern day where incivility is increasingly being weaponized against progressive movements in the media, it is essential for progressive politicians to learn from the Dada movement and embrace the chaos behind political change. After all, when your goal is to deroot a systemic evil, can you really strike it at its deepest without burning it down to ashes? Can you truly fight an evil if you treat that evil with the utmost kindness and respect? Can you adequately express the views of the people you’re fighting for if you represent them with a muzzle tied to your face? Dada, outside of its nuanced history and complex subgenres, is an artform of complete freedom— lacking self censorship, lacking civility, and lacking the small leeches of evil that tie us back from creating change.