On Thursday 2nd August, over 40 artists descended on the Design Museum in London to remove their submissions to an exhibition called "Hope to Nope", a collection of pieces designed and used by activists over the last ten years, including banners, placards, and props. The artists and activists who contributed pieces to the exhibition were protesting against the museum hosting an event that facilitated the arms trade.
On 17th July, the Design Museum in London hosted a private reception for Leonardo, one of the world's biggest arms companies. The event was held as part of the Farnborough International Air Show, a biannual event that brings the world's biggest arms companies in contact with militaries from around the globe looking to sample new technology. Farnborough was attended by militaries from dozens of countries, including some actively engaged in conflict, and the British government plays a major role in organising the fair. You can find out more about the actions taken against Farnborough International here.
In a public response to the demands by artists to remove their work, the Museum said that the charitable status of the museum meant that they couldn't take an "overt political stance", before going further and accusing "professional activists" of exploiting the situation, and claiming the "outcome of these protests will be to censor the exhibition, curtail free speech and prevent the museum from showcasing a plurality of views."
Before taking direct action to remove their pieces, the artists sent a joint letter, an extract of which read:
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.
You can sign a petition demanding the Design Museum doesn't allow it's premises to be used by the arms trade again on the website of Campaign Against the Arms Trade: https://www.caat.org.uk/get-involved/act-now/petition/design-museum