Artists taking part in the London Design Museum’s current exhibition ‘Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008–18’ have removed their work from the show in protest against the museum’s decision to host a private event organised by the Italian ‘aerospace, defence and security’ company Leonardo.
Last week the artists released a statement under the banner ‘Nope to Arms’ criticising the museum for receiving unethical funding following the event on 17 July, scheduled to coincide with the Farnborough Air Show, which took place at the same time as the museum hosted a ‘Hope to Nope’ discussion about the role of social media and design in contemporary social justice politics.
The statement, which is signed by 37 individuals or groups with works in the exhibition, in the museum’s permanent collection, or for sale in the museum’s shop, said: “It is deeply hypocritical for the museum to display and celebrate the work of radical anti-corporate artists and activists, while quietly supporting and profiting from one of the most destructive and deadly industries in the world.
“‘Hope to Nope’ is making the museum appear progressive and cutting-edge, while its management and trustees are happy to take blood money from arms dealers.”
They also accused the museum of crossing an ‘ethical red line’ by hosting Leonardo’s event, adding: “You have made a very clear statement that you do not share these concerns and are happy to let war profiteers use your spaces if the price is right.”
The artists requested that the museum replace each of the artworks with a statement explaining why it has been removed.
Hyperallergic reports that the requested statement read: “The artist has asked for their work to be removed because the museum recently hosted an arms trade event. The artist views this as a violation of their personal ethics and ethics that should be the norm for arts institutions.
“It is the artist’s hope that the museum will now establish a new policy stating that they will not take money from the arms, fossil fuel and tobacco industries or use art to legitimise those profiting from war, repression and destruction.”
Earlier today, artists and anti-arms trade activists protested at the museum. Among those at the protest was the photomontage artist Peter Kennard, who has removed his 2003 work ‘Union Mask’ from the museum’s permanent collection.
Also present were The Craftivist Collective, who tweeted: “We’ve just collected our Mini Banner
#craftivism DIY kits that were being sold as part of the #HopeToNope exhibition section in the shop. Join us in asking the @DesignMuseum to say #NopeToArms & set up a public ethical funding policy – it’s possible & it’s the right thing to do.”
On visiting the museum, a-n News counted 23 labels where works had been removed – about a third of the entire exhibition. The Design Museum’s label states: “This artwork was removed at the request of the lender who has objected to a private event by an aerospace and defense company that was held at the Design Museum.
“The Design Museum is proud of the Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18 exhibition. We believe that it is important to give political graphics a platform at the museum.
“The museum has clearly shown that it believes in giving the views expressed in the exhibition a hearing, without suggesting that it is taking a position on them itself. The museum’s policies are in line with those of our peers in the cultural sector. And we are disappointed that this protest has impacted the visitor experience of this important exhibition.”
I’m very disappointed in the poor judgment that the Design Museum in London displayed by renting their space to a company which manufactures military arms while simultaneously hosting an art show of activist images. I have made many pro-peace images as well as art that is critical of the arms industry, so the museum’s actions are disturbingly contrary to my values. Even as a financially destitute artist, I have turned down several lucrative offers from companies whose values don’t align with mine. I am waiting for an explanation from the Design Museum, but I unequivocally do not support their decision to do business with an arms manufacturer, and along with many of the other featured artists, I will be taking action. -Shepard Fairey From the Archives: Imperial Glory 2011
Shepard Fairey, whose well-known Barack Obama portrait Hope was the initial inspiration for the show, is among the artists who have signed the ‘Nope to Arms’ group’s petition
He posted on Instagram: “I’m very disappointed in the poor judgment that the Design Museum in London displayed by renting their space to a company which manufactures military arms while simultaneously hosting an art show of activist images. I have made many pro-peace images as well as art that is critical of the arms industry, so the museum’s actions are disturbingly contrary to my values.”
Fairey added that, even when he has struggled financially as an artist he has turned down offers from companies whose ethics do not align with his own. He said: “I am waiting for an explanation from the Design Museum, but I unequivocally do not support their decision to do business with an arms manufacturer, and along with many of the other featured artists, I will be taking action.”
Jess Worth is a member of the activist group BP or not BP?, whose work is featured in the show. She told Hyperallergic that she checked the sponsor list of the Design Museum for particularly problematic companies before agreeing to be part of the exhibition.
Worth commented: “To discover we were unwittingly associated with the arms industry like that was a huge blow. We immediately reached out to other artists and activists we knew who were also featured in the exhibition, to talk about how we could respond.”
The collaborative artist-run organisation Keep It Complex has also withdrawn its contribution to the exhibition.
In a statement to a-n News, the group said: “We reluctantly participated in this show, because we think it’s wrong to not pay artists and designers a fee but charge visitors £12 entry to an exhibition. However, we decided to lend some of our works, designed by Europa, as we felt it was important to be visible in this context.
“Our work was not credited properly in the exhibition handbook and we generally had a feeling that the Design Museum didn’t really understand or support collective practices. When it became known that the museum hosted an event related to arms trading, we joined the other exhibitors in removing our work.
“We hope that in the future, the Design Museum doesn’t pretend to be independent or neutral, but opens up their policy-making process to staff, exhibitors and visitors. It’s important to not just display politics but enact them as well. It’s interesting to see how little they can actually cope with the people they invite.”
In response to the Nope to Arms protest, the Design Museum’s directors Deyan Sudjic and Alice Black released a statement on 30 July saying that they stand by their “curatorial independence”.
Although they say they are committed to reviewing the museum’s policies and those that apply for event hire at the museum, they also add that the outcome of the protests will simply be to “censor the exhibition, curtail free speech and prevent the museum from showcasing a plurality of views”.
The statement adds: “As an educational charity, we cannot take an overt political stance as some activists would like us to do. Recent events have shown us that breaching the laws that regulate charities could put us at risk of having our charitable status removed.”
As a result of the protests and the removal of the works, the exhibition will be free to enter until its closing date on 12 August.
UPDATE: The comment from Keep It Complex was added on 3 August following the publication of this article
1-3: ‘Hope To Nope’ exhibition at The Design Museum, London, where artists have removed their work in protest at the museum hosting an arms trade event. Photo: Jack Hutchinson