Artists to remove their work from Design Museum in protest at arms event

By agency reporter
August 2, 2018

A large group of artists have written to the Design Museum to say that they will be removing their work from the current Hope to Nope exhibition. The list includes highly-respected designers Shepard Fairey, Milton Glaser and Jonathan Barnbrook as well as representatives of movements who have been repressed using UK-manufactured weapons. Many of the artists will collect their work on Thursday 2 August 2018 at 11:00am.

The Hope to Nope exhibition, which runs until 12 August 2018, explores "how graphic design and technology have played a pivotal role in dictating and reacting to the major political moments of our times."

The unprecedented move by artists follows revelations that on Tuesday 17 July, the museum hosted an arms industry event, timed to coincide with the Farnborough International arms fair. The event was organised by Leonardo, which is estimated to be the world's ninth largest arms company. Leonardo has armed human rights-abusing regimes around the world, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Philippines.

Over 40 artists, who have come together as the Nope to Arms Collective, have demanded that their work is removed, with many planning to attend to supervise the removal in person on Thursday. This follows an initial letter to the museum on 25 July demanding that their work be removed.

The museum responded by announcing they were reviewing their due diligence policies and committing "not to have any arms, fossil fuels and tobacco corporate hires in the museum for the period of time during which we undertake our review". While this is an unprecedented commitment for a major museum, the artists responded yesterday that “it does not go nearly far enough”.

Their latest statement they respond: “As you say on your website, 'Design is not only about things, but about what they do and what they mean'. By being on your walls in the context of the Leonardo event, our work takes on a new meaning: of complicity in the arms trade. This is completely unacceptable to us. So despite the fact that many of us feel proud to have been part of this exhibition and feel sympathy for the curators and museum staff who put it together, we are now informing you that a group of us will come to the museum at 11am on Thursday 2nd August to supervise the removal of our art from your walls…. While our response to this issue has been unprecedented, the museum also has the opportunity to respond in an unprecedented way by making a public commitment not to take funding from arms, fossil fuel and tobacco companies. This would position it as a powerful example of best practice for the wider culture sector. We hope that this is what you decide to do.”

The artists have requested that the museum displays a statement in the places that their work is currently hanging to explain why it has been removed.

Malu Halasa, who loaned work from the anonymous Syrian poster collective Alshaab Alsori Aref Tarekh (‘The Syrian People Know Their Way’), said: “I gave high-resolution files of Syrian posters to the exhibition in good faith. I had no idea that the museum would be entertaining arms dealers while showing an exhibition of resistance posters and art. For me and the artists I represent this is akin to serving cocktails on the corpses of the over 400,000 people who have died in the over eight year long conflict.”

Helen Glynn from BP or not BP?, whose BP-logo ruff appears in the exhibition, said: “Rather than admit they have done something wrong and commit to genuine change, the Design Museum's directors are asking us to put our ethics on hold while they carry out a policy review. But when their Chair of Trustees is Peter Mandelson - who lists funding from BP in his House of Lords register of interests – it's hard to believe this isn't the museum looking for a quick fix to a crisis. Mandelson's attitude towards oil sponsorship is, in his own words, that "chance would be a fine thing" if such a company were to make the museum an offer. This should be an exciting opportunity for the Design Museum to put together an inspiring ethical fundraising policy that would make it a leader in the cultural sector, garnering positive responses from artists and designers and turning this crisis on its head. Sadly, the museum's attitude so far is all but ambitious, and its Chair's conflicts of interest make any meaningful change unlikely to happen. But we'd love the Design Museum to prove us wrong.”

One of the artists, Dread Scott whose flag in support of Black Lives Matter appears in the exhibition, wrote to the museum yesterday. His letter included: “To host an arms manufacturer while you had an exhibition that includes projects that explicitly oppose the current political direction of the world – a world where rising fascism and nationalism are leading to increasing war and threats of war– was truly shocking. It should have been an ethical red line that the Design Museum should not have crossed. I and other artists would welcome an art world that is more consistent with our values and I believe that changing your policy would initiate a much needed conversation among your institutional peers.”

Another artist, Bill Posters of Brandalism, said: “All of the artists and collectives taking part in this action do so reluctantly. Institutions like the Design Museum often claim that they are apolitical in nature and offer up their spaces and resources to host a plurality of voices. Unfortunately there is nothing apolitical about profiting from the arms trade or providing corporations with a social license to operate by associating the museum with arms manufacturers like Leonardo.”

Sarah Waldron of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “The Museum should never have accepted this booking: the arms trade is a deeply unethical industry whose profits are based on conflict and repression. The seriousness of the response by exhibitors reflects the strength of public feeling on this issue. We hope the Museum will address these concerns by introducing an ethical funding policy. By doing so it can show it is taking the artists’ concerns seriously, and set a vitally important precedent for the sector.”

Another artist, Peter Kennard, said: “The fact that the Design Museum will not make an immediate commitment to wash its hands of the arms trade makes me sick. Does it still contemplate accepting money from the bloody hands of arms manufacturers?  We've all seen video of  children being bombed in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, the list goes on. The Museum says it needs a policy review to decide the matter. It actually needs to  take time off to review those videos, I fully support the decision of the artists in the 'Nope to Arms Collective' in taking down their work from the Nope to Hope' exhibition. I will join them in solidarity on Thursday to take down my anti-war print 'Union Mask' from the Design Museum collection permanent display 'Designer Maker User'.”

* See the full list of artists and read their original letter here

* More about the Hope to Nope exhibition here

* Campaign Against Arms Trade https://www.caat.org.uk

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