Artists say ‘Nope’ to arms

This morning, we’re part of a large group of artists, designers and activists who have written to the Design Museum asking that our work be removed from the current Hope to Nope exhibition of political art. The letter and signatories can be found here and are also copied below.

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Inside the Hope to Nope exhibition

The Hope to Nope exhibition, which runs until August 12th 2018, explores “how graphic design and technology have played a pivotal role in dictating and reacting to the major political moments of our times.” It includes one of our BP logo ruffs, which we lent to the museum.

Why are we demanding our stuff back? Because last Tuesday, 17th July, the museum hosted an arms industry event as part of the Farnborough International arms fair.

We only learned about the event as it coincided with a talk at the museum about the role of design in the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. Ash Sarkar, a participant in that talk and signatory to the letter, learned the other event happening in the building was an arms reception and tweeted about it:

The event was organised by Leonardo, which is estimated to be the world’s ninth largest arms company. Leonardo has armed and supported human rights abusing regimes and dictatorships around the world; including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Philippines.

Today’s letter, which has so far been signed by 30 artists and organisations who have contributed work to the exhibition or have work in the permanent collection or on sale in the shop, says: “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.”

The letter asks for the work to be removed by 1st August, and calls on the museum to adopt “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.”

The letter has also been signed by artists, curators and speakers who were part of Design Museum events accompanying the exhibition.

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Our BP ruff on display in the Design Museum. Photo by BP or not BP?

Sampson Wong, from Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement, said: “I lent objects to the museum which I saved from the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests for democracy in Hong Kong. I am shocked that at the same time as they superficially celebrate our protest materials, the museum is hosting a reception for companies like Chemring, the arms dealers who supplied the tear gas that was used on us.”

Danny Chivers from BP or not BP? said: “Our object in Hope to Nope – a Shakespearean ruff in the shape of the BP logo – specifically challenges the unethical funding of arts institutions. So it’s jaw-dropping that the museum hosted an event for one of the most unethical industries on the planet while displaying our object on its wall. Arms dealers and fossil fuel companies both promote conflict and destruction around the world, and no respectable museum should be working with either of these industries.

“The Museums Association recommends a transparent ethical funding policy as basic good practice for any museum, and a way to avoid controversial situations like this one. We made this point in person to the museum’s Chair of Trustees Peter Mandelson and its co-Director Deyan Sudjic at the exhibition launch back in April, but it seems they didn’t listen.”

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Our BP ruff in action, 2012 – 2015. Photos by Natasha Quarmby, Kristian Buus and David Hoffman.

Sarah Waldron of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “Companies like Leonardo have armed and supported human rights abusers and dictatorships across the world. When they host events in cultural institutions and museums it is because they are seeking a veneer of legitimacy for their terrible business. By hosting them the Design Museum is giving both moral and practical support to an industry based on death and destruction.”

Sarah Corbett, Craftivist Collective whose Mini Banner craftivism DIY kits are for sale in the museum shop said: “I am shocked by this as the Design Museum provides such an important public service. Museums need to make ends meet, but surely this is not the right way to do it. I hope our stand encourages the Museum to adopt an ethical funding policy as a matter of urgency. I have asked them to stop selling my craftivism DIY kits until such a policy is in place.”

We corner Manelson in the Design Museum
At the Hope to Nope launch in April 2018, two of our actor-vists challenge Peter Mandelson on ethical arts funding. Just look how enthusiastic he is about it. Photo by Jamie Kelsey-Fry

Jamie from Bristol Streetwear, whose Corbyn Nike swoosh T-shirt features in the exhibition, said: “Anything to do with arms, their supply or any connection with them isn’t something we want to be associated with. Forward-thinking exhibition in one room but arms trade show in the other. Really??? That doesn’t work.”

In 2015, Campaign Against Arms Trade wrote to the Museum to inquire about its ethical policies and was assured “that we do take our responsibilities very seriously in this area and have a due diligence and sponsorship policy in place to this effect.” In response to a media report about concerns around the arms reception, the museum said “we take the response to Tuesday’s event seriously and we are reviewing our due diligence policy related to commercial and fundraising activities.”

The Design Museum is just the latest of several museums to come under intense criticism over its support for the arms trade. In 2012, the National Gallery ended its contract with Finmeccanica (now Leonardo) a year early following protests at its hosting of Farnborough and DSEI-related events. In 2014, the Natural History Museum confirmed it had refused to host the annual Farnborough reception, following pressure from campaigners. In 2016, protesters staged a die-in at the Farnborough arms fair reception at the Science Museum. Since then, the annual reception – having been forced out of three museums – has been held at the arms fair itself instead.

The Leonardo booking at the Design Museum appears to be an attempt by the arms industry to continue holding events in London museums, despite the huge controversy of previous years. The Design Museum must have known that this would be a controversial booking, hence the secrecy around the nature of the event itself, with participants in the Hope to Nope talk on the same evening being told to use separate entrances.

This week’s action by artists comes just four months after performers threatened to pull out of the Great Exhibition of the North over its sponsorship by BAE Systems. The sponsorship in that case did not go ahead.

In light of all this, Culture Unstained have written a great blog on five things the Design Museum should have done before saying yes to an arms dealer party. Let’s hope the museum learns its lesson and doesn’t let this happen again.

The letter we sent this morning:

To: The Management 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, and in the museum’s permanent collection.

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)

dr.d (Curfew Social Cleansing poster)

Matt Huynh (Occupied Wall Street Journal cover)

Malu Halasa (author, Syria Speaks: Art and Culture From the Frontline)

Shelley Hoffman (Black Lives Matter quilt)

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

Ash Sarkar (editor, writer, lecturer)

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)

Joshua Wong (Umbrella Movement, Hong Kong)


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