Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (1898 – 1944)
The Bauhaus-trained Austrian designer and artist who was killed in the Holocaust has recently become better known for her painting and art therapy than photography. But in the early 30’s she produced powerful anti-fascist photomontages in a Dadaist style.
Friedl studied photography and design at several prestigious schools in Vienna, studying photography under Johannes Beckmann, as well as at the Bauhaus (1916-19) and Bauhaus Weimar (1919 -21), where she studied printing and book-binding under Johannes Itten, while working in the theatre, doing costume and set design. She was a gifted and versatile designer, painter, graphic artist and set designer.
In 1923, she and her partner Franz Singer set up the studio Atelier Singer-Dicker that specialized in Bauhaus architecture and interior design until 1931. They designed award-winning furnishings such as easily stackable chairs, folding sofas and tables, and adjustable lamps, and furnishings of the Montessori school, Vienna. She also used her art training to teach kindergarten teachers and later worked with refugee children.
In the early 30’s Friedl produced powerful photo collages for agitprop Communist posters. Though little of her photographic work survives, this is the work for which she should be better known, such as ‘This Is what it looks Like, My Child, this world’, 1933. She used the ‘Isotype’ graphic design known as the Vienna Method of Pictorial Statistics and most of the clippings come from left-wing magazines Der Kuckuck and Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung, clearly framing her work as social critique.
After being arrested for her anti-Fascist activities, she fled to Prague in 1934, where she married her cousin, Pavel Brandeis, and continued her underground work. She turned to painting for a brief time, but most were destroyed when the mass transportations of Jews began. She was sent to Terezin concentration camp in 1942 and secretly taught art to the children there until she was deported to Auschwitz in 1944. She hid over 4000 pieces of the children’s art which was used as evidence in the Nuremberg trials and is archived in the Jewish Museum, Vienna.
By Paula Vellet