top of page

Dada Movement: Artistic Nihilism Mocks the 20’s

Nouveau Dadaism/Shitposting- Exhibit-A: A modern parody of Edvard Munch’s ‘TheScream’

Exhibit-B: A modern parody of Vermeer’s ‘The Girl With A Pearl Earring

Humour is the human mind’s error message: evolutionary coding for the brain’s inability to deal with reality and reason beyond a breaking point. What of a collective cultural resort to cutting absurdity for expression of existential pain? This is ‘Dada’, and its nihilism has now struck two generations, one century apart.

Dada is a cultural spectre of the misery of a post-war generation that we, the GenZ, never met, but would’ve shared the exactness of our fears, existential dread and helplessness with. ‘Dada’ remains an everlasting echo of the holler of our ancestors against the human civilization’s near-apocalyptic, avarice-ridden march towards materialistic meaningfulness, an echo that we’ve adopted as our very own. In the following article I will try to decode ‘Dada’ as instrumental to the study of public psychology in the decade lying before us.

In illuminating the historical backdrop of Dada, I would like to hark back to the First World War (1914-1918) and the trauma it wrought on the youth of that decade. They saw the senseless death and destruction of a meaningless war, waged in order to satisfy the hubris of their elders. In the wake of the War, the world was savaged by the deadly Spanish Influenza of 1918 and the Great Economic Depression of the late 1920’s. With the sole purpose of adding to this misery, Nazism reared its ugly head as the greatest of all moral failings in human history, and the Second World war broke out in 1939. The hopelessness of life, and suspicion towards morality experienced by that generation, disfigured into the cultural movement of ‘Dada’.

Dadaists essentially believed that logic and governance had led to their misery. A hungry pursuit for power and dominion had become the bane of their generation’s existence. Their future had been extinguished, lost somewhere in the ear-splitting war cries of their elders. Dadaists argued that the world was undeserving of any kind of beauty or symbolic and meaningful art: a stark reversal from the coveted renaissance high-art that was previously dominant. Their essential goal was to attack the bourgeoisie sensibilities and hubris of their elders, who had lived extravagant lives themselves as the spear-headers of meaningless battles, but had destroyed the simplest of hopes harboured by the youth in the process.

Left: Dadaist Duchamp’s Mona Lisa Parody: ‘She Is Lucky’ from 1919

Right: An internet meme from 2020

The Circle of Human Experience: A 100 years of Artistic Mockery

‘Dada’ art was a blend of absurdism and chance: coloured blocks tossed in the air, graffiti on public walls, caricatures of renaissance paintings (dare I say, the earliest memes) or even sound shows with artists in bizarre get-ups made out of trash, dancing to what could not be adequately described as music, constituted Dadaism. Dada was anti-art and opposed to anything that pleased the senses. It’s idea was to perturb the onlookers and repulse them. Dadaists wanted to expose the hypocrisy of their elderly generation that called itself a connoisseur of beauty, but had sentenced it’s children to the suffering of the trenches.

The growing absurdity of GenZ nihilism mirrors this: we’ve steadily degraded from the ‘ice-bucket challenge’, to the hysterical commentary on Tumblr, to ultimately the meme-ers, bedecked in pillowcases, posing for the ‘Pandemic Challenge of 2020’. And the downward spiral of our collective psyches is still on. The anti-music has been replaced by nihilistic Genz chants of ‘Binod, Binod, Binod’, but the idea remains the same: this world no longer deserves logic and the GenZ will laugh itself to tears over its sorry state at the barest provocation.

Left: 2020 Pandemic Pillowcase challenge

Right: Dadaist Hugo Ball dressed in tubes for a ‘noise show’ c. 1918