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Troubled water for the Design Museum in London

On July 17 2018, the Design Museum in London hosted an event held by Leonardo, one of the world’s biggest arms companies. The event was held as part of the Farnborough International arms fair. A group over 30 artists have asked to have their work removed from the Design Museum’s current Hope to Nope exhibition after the announcement of the event by London Design Museum.

From the global financial crash and the Arab Spring, to ISIS, Brexit and Trump, Hope to Nope aims to explore “how graphic design and technology have played a pivotal role in dictating and reacting to the major political moments of our times.”

The letter was originally posted on Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) website, a UK-based organisation working to end the international arms trade.

To: The Directors and Trustees of the Design Museum

Dear Design Museum,

We are writing as artists, designers and activists whose work features in your current ‘Hope to Nope’ exhibition, the museum’s permanent collection and on sale in your shop.

Last week, we were appalled to learn that the museum hosted an arms industry trade event as part of the Farnborough International weapons fair. This happened on the evening of Tuesday 17 July, the same time as a discussion about the role of social media and design in contemporary social justice politics as part of the Hope to Nope season of events.

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.

We refuse to allow our art to be used in this way. Particularly jarring is the fact that one of the objects on display (the BP logo Shakespeare ruff from BP or not BP?) is explicitly challenging the unethical funding of art and culture. Meanwhile, many of the protest images featured in the exhibition show people resisting the very same repressive regimes who are being armed by companies involved in the Farnborough arms fair. It even features art from protests which were repressed using UK-made weapons.

We therefore request that our artwork be immediately removed from the exhibition. The specific pieces are listed below. We will not associate our names and our work with an institution that actively supports the arms industry. This request is also backed by speakers and other contributors to Hope to Nope and its related events.

Following some private communications with senior museum staff, we now believe it is important to make this request publicly. The ethics of our national museums is a significant issue of public interest, and other artists and designers whose work features in the Design Museum also have a right to know that the gallery where their work is displayed is being rented out to arms dealers.

In your communications with us and others so far, you have not adequately engaged with our concerns. Instead, you have sought to avoid responsibility for the decision to host a weapons fair event, calling it a ‘private event for which there is no endorsement by the museum’. But by hosting an event for – and taking money from – an industry that many other arts institutions quite rightly see as beyond an ethical red line, 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.

Museums are not neutral spaces – every decision about what is displayed, how it is labelled and how it is funded is political, and reveals something about the underlying values of the institution. By hosting an arms industry event, the Design Museum is presenting values that are strongly at odds with most of the art in Hope to Nope, which aspires to use the power of design to challenge powerful elites and promote peace and justice.

We want to make it clear that our criticism is directed at the management and trustees of the Design Museum, not the curators who have created a fantastic showcase of radical art and had no say in the arms fair booking. We were all proud to be included in Hope to Nope, and do not take this action lightly.

The museum could avoid these controversies in future by developing a publicly-available ethical funding policy that specifically refuses any funds from industries widely accepted as inappropriate partners for arts organisations, namely arms, tobacco and fossil fuel companies. Once this is in place, we would consider working with the museum again.

Please confirm that our work will be taken down by August 1st at the latest, as our art is now being displayed in your museum without our consent.

Signatories (people with specific art in the exhibition, permanent collection and on sale in the shop)

  • BP or not BP? and Stig, designer (BP ruff)
  • Pavel Arsenev, Laboratory of poetical actionism (‘You cannot even imagine us’ banner)
  • Roman Osminkin, poet, artist, activist, St Petersburg Russia (‘You cannot even imagine us’ banner)
  • Kathrin Böhm, co-founder of Company Drinks (6 bottles of Sour Brexit)
  • Keep it Complex, Make it Clear arts collective (Unite Against Dividers campaign material)
  • Peter Marcuse and Bill Posters, Brandalism Collective (subverted adverts)
  • James Moulding and Dr Richard Barbrook, Games for the Many (Corbyn Run)
  • Fraser Muggeridge (Spectres of Modernism installation)
  • Noel Douglas, Occupy Design Collective (Occupy Design website and materials)
  • Kiran Chahal and Stephanie Turner (Co-Designers of Grenfell ‘Wall of Truth’ – ‘The Truth Will Not Be Hidden’)
  • Paolo Pedercini, Molleindustria, (“Casual Games for Protesters”)
  • Jonathan Barnbrook (Brandalism VW poster)
  • The Space Hijackers (Official Olympics Protestor t-shirt)
  • Charlie Waterhouse and Clive Russell, This Ain’t Rock’n’Roll (Brixtopia & The Brixton Pound)
  • Peter Kennard (‘Union Mask’ in the permanent collection display ‘Designer User Maker’ – donated to Design Museum)
  • Occupy London (campaign materials and copies of Occupied Times)
  • Benny Tai, one of the initiators of the Occupy Central with Love and Peace Movement and a core participant of the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong
  • Sampson Wong (Umbrella Movement Visual Archive)
  • Sarah Corbett, Craftivist Collective (Mini Banner craftivism DIY kits, in museum shop)
  • Jamie, Bristol Streetwear (Corbyn T-shirt with Nike swoosh)
  • Tim Fishlock, Oddly Head (Slogans in Nice Typefaces Won’t Save the Human Races poster)
  • Matt Huynh (Occupied Wall Street Journal cover)
  • dr.d (Curfew Social Cleansing poster)
  • Shelley Hoffman (Black Lives Matter quilt)
  • Dread Scott, artist (flag in support of Black Lives Matter)
  • Joshua Wong, Hong Kong democracy activist and member of the Umbrella Movement, nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
  • Malu Halasa (author, Syria Speaks: Art and Culture From the Frontline)

Supporters (people who have participated in events relating to the exhibition)

  • Gavin Grindon (curator, Disobedient Objects, Victoria & Albert Museum)
  • Catherine Flood (curator, Disobedient Objects, Victoria & Albert Museum)
  • Matt Bonner (designer)
  • Mel Evans (author, Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts)
  • Michael Oswell (Studio Accelorata Jengold)
  • Ash Sarkar (editor, writer, lecturer)
By |2018-07-25T13:56:58+00:00July 25th, 2018|

About the Author:

After thirteen years as Communications Manager for Valcucine, as well as a two-year stint at Driade, I felt the need to launch something fresh and original in the design and architecture world. A showroom, a trade fair or an advertisement are not enough to understand a brand, its underlying philosophies, and how it undergoes its product development, so I wanted to create a new way of connecting architects and interior designers with top design companies. Here I write news about architecture, interior design, industrial design, cultural heritage and our design and architecture tours.
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