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Artists Protest London’s Design Museum As They Retrieve Works from Hope to Nope Exhibition

Artists went to the Design Museum to retrieve their works after the museum released a statement that angered exhibiting artists. The protests were sparked when the public institution hosted a private event organized by arms-trading company Leonardo

Protestors demonstrate outside the Design Museum (all images courtesy of Luke Forsythe unless otherwise noted, and used with permission)

A group of a few dozen art activists, calling themselves “Nope to Arms,” arrived at the London Design Museum today to protest and to collect the works of artists who have requested their work removed from the exhibition Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008–18. The artists and protesters gathered at 11am local time to object the museum’s relationship with the worlds 9th-largest arms dealing company, Leonardo.

Over 40 protesters gathered in support of #NopeToArms (image courtesy of Luke Forsythe)

The Design Museum advertises the exhibition as probing, “how graphic design and technology have played a pivotal role in dictating and reacting to the major political moments of our times.” After discoveries that the museum had hosted the Farnborough airshow under allegedly dubious circumstances, over one-third of participating artists requested their work be removed, citing incongruous ethics. Many of the artists involved center their creative practice around their sociopolitical ideologies — something they say the museum disrespected and patronized by hosting the event.

Initially, 30 artists and Design Museum contributors requested their work be removed in a statement released on July 25, which has since grown to include over 40 artists.

The accompanying protest comes after the artists were angered by a statement made by Design Museum directors Deyan Sudjic and Alice Black, saying:

The museum is now being targeted by a group of activists, not all of whom are being accurate in their presentation of the situation. We are in the midst of an argument not of our making. We will not be seen as an easy target and a surrogate for the real targets of these campaigners. We do not want our programmes to be co-opted by the agenda of others and we stand by our curatorial independence.

Andrew Smith, a representative of the UK organization Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), told Hyperallergic in an email that the group of protesters in today’s action reached nearly 40, around 15 of whom were artists featured in Hope to Nope.

Jess Worth, of performance and anti-oil activist group BP or not BP?, told Hyperallergic about the “Nope to Arms” protest via email, saying, “It went really well, the sun was shining and we had such a wonderful colourful vibrant array of art to display when we came out of the museum.”

The artists brandished their work outside the museum after collecting it from the galleries

Originally requesting a statement written by the artists to hang in place of their missing work, the new labels are not exactly what the artists had hoped for. Worth adds, “It was a strange experience going [a]round the exhibition afterward. They’ve made it free as a third of the work has been removed, but they’ve kept the labels up so you can still learn about what’s missing, and now there are labels also explaining the gaps.”

Worth says representatives from regions affected by the arms trade and Leonardo were present, including Syria, Hong Kong, and Bahrain.

The artist adds, “ … there was definitely a feeling among the artists that we’d done something powerful and important today. I suspect its ripples will be felt for some time, and we are already planning our next collaboration!”

Andrew Smith adds that one of the protesting artists, Charlie Waterhouse of This Ain’t Rock’n’Roll, is interested in hosting an exhibition of the removed work.

The artists and their supporters form a picket line outside the museum
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