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#NopeToArms Collective Stages a Grassroots Exhibition of Art Pulled from Design Museum [UPDATE]

From Nope to Hope: Art vs Arms, Oil, and Injustice displays the work of artists who protested the London Design Museum’s relationship with arms dealer Leonardo.

BP or Not BP?’s “Kraken” in the From Nope to Hope exhibition (photo by Ron Fassbender; all images courtesy of #NopeToArms)

Forty artists who withdrew their work from London’s Design Museum in early August have reinvigorated their artworks with a DIY exhibition at the Brixton Recreation Centre. The new exhibition, From Nope to Hope: Art vs Arms, Oil, and Injustice, including work by Shepard Fairey, Milton Glaser, Dread Scott, and the Guerrilla Girls, is on view as part of the London Design Festival.

The artists were first united in the exhibition Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008–18, a show the Design Museum said examined “how graphic design and technology have played a pivotal role in dictating and reacting to the major political moments of our times.”

After discovering that the museum had hosted the Farnborough airshow (hosted by the world’s 9th-largest arms dealing company, Leonardo) over one-third of participating artists requested their work be removed from the exhibition. Many of the artists involved center their creative practice around their sociopolitical ideologies, and said that the museum hosting this event in conjunction with the exhibition undermined their artistic ethos. In protest, the artists came together as the #NopeToArms Collective

Exhibition of protest art withdrawn from the Design Museum over their involvement with the arms industry, on display at Brixton Rec (photo by Luke Forsythe)

In a letter published on July 25, the artists requested their work be removed from the gallery by August 1, and urged the museum to reconsider its economic relationship with companies dealing in arms, fossil fuels, and tobacco. Over time, they gained 40 signatories directly involved in the show (with about a third of featured artists requesting their work be withdrawn).

On August 2, the artists staged an action at the museum where they removed the work themselves. Participating artist Jess Worth, of performance and anti-oil activist group BP or not BP?, told Hyperallergic the idea to reinstall the works in a grassroots exhibition was suggested by Charlie Waterhouse, one of the protesting artists and co-collaborators of This Ain’t Rock’n’Roll. 

Worth says the show came together in together in four weeks and was a true effort of collaboration. The Brixton Design Trail secured the venue, the artists wrote their own labels, and artist Peter Kennard designed publicity materials. The show was curated by Gavin Grindon, Charlie Waterhouse, and Jess Worth.

The grassroots-organized exhibition (photo by Luke Forsythe)

Charlie Waterhouse told Hyperallergic in an email, “When we took out our work from the Design Museum we were accused by their management of shutting down free speech and denying people the chance to see the art. Given the rarefied atmosphere of the Design Museum, and its Kensington setting, plus the £12 [(~$16)] it cost to get into Hope To Nope it was really important to reshow the work in an accessible location, and for free.”

“It turned into such a large exhibition that the logistics of getting it all hung and ready were pretty daunting, but we managed it, with an amazing amount of help, support, and goodwill,” Jess Worth adds.

Worth says most of the work that was removed from the Design Museum is present in the new exhibition. She says only a few pieces were not included, for logistical reasons (“[T]hey’d gone back to the States to be used elsewhere, the artist didn’t own the work, or it required audiovisual equipment we couldn’t provide.”)

Worth continues:

Then we thought about what other art should have been in the original Hope to Nope show, or would complement it. We particularly reached out to artists working on the arms trade and militarism, given that was why we’d removed our work in the first place.” [We a]lso incorporated the theme of museum ethics — Guerrilla Girls, Liberate Tate, BP or not BP?’s Kraken puppet and Viking longship, etc.

A view of Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster (photo by Luke Forsythe)

Waterhouse adds:

I think most of the activists and artists’ hearts sank when going into the Design Museum show. It looked great — don’t get me wrong, and the curators did a wonderful job — but on the bare white walls of a serious museum setting the visceral nature of the work, the activist context is stripped right out.

Captions were neutral, there was a conscious attempt at balance … all completely understandable, but rather smothering. There was no real sense of the REAL context of the work. The sacrifice, the activism, the day-to-day nature of this work being produced by collectives and often complete amateurs.

Waterhouse says in the new exhibition, where work is pegged to heras fencing, “There’s a real sense of the DIY that much better reflects the reality of the work’s creation.”

He adds:

Whether dealing with arms, oil, gentrification or black lives matters; Brexit, Syria, Hong Kong democracy or workers’ rights there’s a real sense of the things that unite us. Sure, there are myriad specific interests on show here — but somehow the show manages to bring us TOGETHER, which is a really wonderful thing.

Waterhouse concludes:

The anarcho / DIY ethic is all about collaboration — all about creating autonomous connections. … I’d be surprised if there isn’t some bonkers collaboration in the future. In Brixton there’s a bunch of people wanting to create and maintain a meaningful grassroots place for creativity and the arts, so maybe we’ll come up with some daft ideas, and see who’s up for it. And let’s face it, there’s plenty of injustice out there that needs a 40ft Kraken called Gary to sort it out.

Another view of the “Kraken”

The exhibition is endorsed by Campaign Against Arms Trade and the Art Not Oil Coalition. The #NopeToArms collective signed the Oil Sponsorship Free commitment, refusing fossil fuel money to support their work.

On Saturday, September 22, #NopeToArms is hosting a discussion, “Dirty cash: can artists clean up arts funding?” Worth says they invited Design Museum co-director Alice Black, who politely declined.

The Design Museum told Hyperallergic, when asked about the DIY exhibition at Brixton Rec:

The Design Museum policies are in line with those of all other major cultural institutions around the world. We have committed to review these policies and those that apply for event hire at the museum and are currently undertaking this work.

From Nope to Hope: Art vs. Arms, Oil, & Injustice continues at the Brixton Recreation Centre through September 23. The exhibition was curated by Gavin Grindon, Charlie Waterhouse, and Jess Worth.

UPDATE: The exhibition, due to high interest, will remain open through Sunday, September 30.

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