Back at ya: exhibitions are always political (reprise)

While exhibiting protest graphics in a show titled Hope To Nope, London’s Design Museum decided to host an arms industry fundraising event in their Kensington premises. Many of the exhibitors were so angry about what they saw as an unethical affront to their presence in the show, they physically removed their work from the museum with two weeks still to run. In an act of ingenious protest, those same exhibitors are now mounting their own exhibition of the work they removed, and then some.

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 18.18.30
From Nope To Hope website

In the Design Museum’s exhibition, covering 10 years of protest graphics from 2008 to 2018, the chronological nature of the show produced an undeniable air of negativity with Trump being the end point of the show. It was almost as if the championing of the effectiveness of protest graphics throughout the rest of the show was bought to an end by Trump being elected – it felt as if all that had passed before had been pointless. For the museum’s director to then brush aside concerns by exhibitors that the gallery was aiding and abetting the arms trade, created an increased air of negativity around Hope To Nope in what otherwise was an excellent show. In a twist on the original show, the organisers, under the name the Nope To Arms Collective, have fittingly reversed the Design Museum’s title to now read From Nope To Hope.

What this new show does is to revive positivity, both in terms of putting on the exhibition itself, and in the word play on the original title. The Design Museum’s stance, (at the time of writing), on not developing an ethical fundraising policy, is now the ‘Nope’; while displaying the removed work for free has become the new ‘Hope’. This semantic about-turn breathes belief back into protest graphics, while putting on the new exhibition is an act of protest in itself.

In my original write-up of my visit to the Design Museum, (see Exhibitions Are Always Political), I declared that I couldn’t help thinking that Atelier Populaire, who occupied the print room of the École Des Beaux Arts in 1968 to print graphic flyposters to further the unfolding revolution in Paris at the time, would have been dismissive of Hope to Nope. I went on to quote that in 1969 they said: “The posters produced … are weapons in the service of the struggle and are an inseparable part of it. Their rightful place is in the centres of conflict, that is to say in the streets and on the walls of factories. To use them for decorative purposes, to display them in bourgeois places of culture or to consider them as objects of aesthetic interest is to impair both their function and their effect.” (Kugelberg and Vermés, 2011, p1).

In the action that is From Nope To Hope, I can’t help but think that Atelier Populaire would have looked favourably on this act of exhibition as protest. As artist Charlie Waterhouse of Nope To Arms Collective and This Ain’t Rock ‘N’ Roll said in Creative Review today“When we removed our art from the Design Museum, Co-Director Deyan Sudjic said two things – that our action was denying people the opportunity to see the work, and that we were somehow taking the easy route to protest by attacking a soft target like the museum, rather than the arms industry itself. So Deyan, back at ya, with bells on.”

From Nope To Hope is free and will run daily until 9pm from 15 to 23 September at the Brixton Rec. Containing many of the artworks removed from the Design Museum, including Shepard Fairey; Jonathan Barnbrook; Grenfell Wall of Truth; Greenpeace; Guerrilla Girls; Milton Glaser; and much more, it will also feature work not previously part of the Hope To Nope show. On 22 September there will also be a discussion on the ethics of cultural funding titled: Dirty Cash: Can Artists Clean Up Arts Funding?

In case you missed the original furore over the summer about the Design Museum’s refusal to address their fundraising policies, see the From Nope To Hope website for links to articles covering all the main points.

Kugelberg, J and Vermés, P.  (2011)  Beauty Is In The Street: A Visual Record of The May ’68 Paris Uprising.  London: Four Corner Books

Published by Nigel Ball

Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design

%d bloggers like this: