Art and dissent, London exhibitions

This video is about the exhibition Disobedient Objects at the Victoria & Albert museum in London.

By Christine Lindey in England:

Visual protest survives and inspires

Tuesday 16th September 2014

Two free exhibitions on social and political dissent at the V&A museum are well worth a visit, says Christine Lindey

The issues addressed in the major exhibition Disobedient Objects at the V&A are as big as they come. They range from calls for peace, ecological balance and colonial liberation to campaigns for sexual, racial and gender equality to struggles against apartheid, capitalism, austerity, nuclear weapons and dictatorships.

On show are works from the late-1970s to the present, ranging from high-tech computer games to low-tech badges and pamphlets to hand-crafted banners, placards and giant puppets.

These objects of dissent are fashioned from materials as varied as a tear-gas mask from a recycled water bottle, foam and elastic bands and the “Flone” — a DIY open-sourced drone powered by a mobile phone.

It’s an exhibition which testifies to activists’ inventiveness and skill — the verbal and visual wit of the Wapping printers’ parodies of the Sun newspaper jostle with the beauty of design and stitch-crafts of a Greenham Common Women’s banner.

Phone Story, a 2011 Italian smartphone computer game which challenges players to force Congolese children down coltan mines or to manage Western consumerism, is so bitingly contentious that Apple i-Tunes banned it from their store after four days.

While such exhibits introduce the museum’s diverse public to the creative possibilities of protest, of which some may know little, the exhibition crams far too many issues and objects into a smallish space, leaving room for only the briefest or non-existent information about their different and complex historical, political and ideological contexts.

The resulting confusion is exacerbated by a distracting, attention-seeking exhibition design. This is dominated by a large screen showing a mishmash of brief footage of protests worldwide which are interspersed with commentators’ thoughts about the nature of protesting.

The film emphasises aggressive confrontations and actions which are dramatised by a belligerent soundtrack, so underplaying the peaceful companionability of most demonstrations.

Although the exhibits are fascinating, the enervating curating results in a representation of protest which borders dangerously on glamourising and homogenising it as an end in itself, thus overshadowing the reasons behind dissent.

This video from the USA says about itself:

Posters of Protest: TeleSUR Segment about SOA Watch DC Mural Action

28 August 2014

Police Action vs. Art Activism – Street Art to Close the SOA

Art activism has always been a key element of social change. A poster campaign to remember the martyrs and expose the killers, was kicked off with a poster mural in Washington, DC.

A group of about a dozen activists came together to paste up a giant mural on the streets of Washington, DC. Though they were peaceful, DC police decided that political street art was unacceptable in the district. After the beautiful artwork was completed, four of the activists were handcuffed, arrested and held for six hours before being charged with “defacing public or private property.” The charge carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a $1,000 fine.

The Christine Lindey article continues:

In contrast, the calm ambience and unobtrusive design of Posters of Protest and Revolution allows the space to reflect, respond and learn from its equally interesting exhibits.

Although its scope is also international and its timescale longer, concentration on a single form of communication gives it a clear focus.

There are posters in a wide variety of styles, techniques and media from all over the world dating from the early 20th century to the present and there’s information about the issue addressed by each poster.

The thematic organisation, with short texts justifying each grouping, creates a coherent framework while stimulating us to make comparisons between differences of cultures and eras.

Examples are posters of “Ordinary workers destroying symbols of oppression” in the section Smashing the System and in NV Tzivchinskiy’s 1931 Soviet poster Victory of the 5 Year plan: A Blow against Capitalism, a powerful hand crushes two capitalists with a gigantic number five constructed from riveted steel.

It is echoed by the British Communist Ken Sprague’s 1971 photomontage Crush Anti-Union Laws. Made when the Tories passed the Industrial Relations Act, it shows prime minister Ted Heath being crushed inside a gigantic hand.

Careful selection reveals how different techniques produce different effects.


The Poster Collective’s screen print Zimbabwe in the section on liberation movements depicts a male and female guerilla with bold shapes and outlines echoing the subjects’ bold determination and exploits screen printing’s empathy for strong clear forms.

Using the pan-African colours black, red, gold and green and the single revolutionary slogan Zimbabwe — the poster appeared before Rhodesia was renamed —it communicates complex ideas in a brilliantly visual way.

Angela Davis

The Angela Davis Defence Fund poster nearby is more introspective. It’s a slogan-free, black-and-white photograph of her face which communicates her intelligence, conviction and sincerity and so inspires support for her defence.

The New Dawns section focuses on hopes of a better world, symbolised by motifs of the rising sun and plentiful harvests and includes one of the exhibition’s most beautiful posters.

Agriculture is the Most Important Front, an anonymous Vietnamese poster, depicts a woman harvester with understated elegance of line and delicacy of colour.

As a temporary “display” from the museum’s collection, this exhibition is virtually unpublicised, has no catalogue and is tucked away in two obscure upstairs rooms. Yet it’s more rewarding than its companion exhibition — better funded and with a catalogue — in that its inspiring content stays in the mind.

A World to Win, Posters of Protest and Revolution, runs until November 2 and Disobedient Objects until February 1, 2015. Details here.

1 thought on “Art and dissent, London exhibitions

  1. Pingback: British art and Big Money in 2013 | Dear Kitty. Some blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.