Eventually Heartfield found work in a London publishing house and did not return to what was then the GDR until 1950. His belated return and concerns over the nature of his work led to him to be expelled from the Communist Party and denied employment. “I would have been the designer of socialism if only they’d let me,” he later bemoaned. Although eventually rehabilitated and granted membership of the Akademie der Künste, one can only concur that it was socialism’s loss.
As nationalism once again rears its ugly head throughout Europe and the world, and photo manipulation is available to anyone with a smartphone, perhaps Heartfield’s ingenious manner of exposing lies could offer inspiration to a new generation of artists. And even if they don’t, his iconic images that highlighted the pointless brutality of war and the power of collective resistance remain as powerful and relevant as ever.
John Heartfield: Photography Plus Dynamite will be travelling to the Museum de Fundatie, Zwolle, from 17 January – 3 May 2021 and The Royal Academy, London, 27 June – 26 September 2021.
A virtual tour of the exhibition, which is open until 23 August, can be found at www.adk.de/heartfield
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