The Disobedient Objects exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, emits a strange atmosphere. It is a curation of works, or “objects” which have contributed to social change, collected over the last three decades.
The room is filled with seemingly random objects, from DIY signs made by the Karnataka Farmers’ Association trying to protect their farms, bust cards made in the UK for those campaigning for gay rights in the 60s and Burmese currency made illegally, secretly featuring the face of Aung San Suu Kyi.
The tone inferred by the descriptions of each piece, left by the creators themselves, leads us to think that an art exhibition in London is not where they had hoped their handiwork would end up. One description, under a poster made by the indigenous movement in Spain, 2011, simply said “Archive this! Occupy this Museum! (...because Victoria and Albert are not “art and design”!) Copy and spread this image, but please don’t “make business” out of it.”
The curators of the exhibition have since said a lot of the activists were reluctant to loan their work to the gallery. Things created as a result of people fighting for their life, their livelihood, their education or their basic human rights can often lose all sense of meaning when displayed behind glass in a museum.
Some aspects of the exhibition challenged the often elitist art industry, featuring the masks worn by Guerrilla Girls, an activist movement who aim to expose sexism, racism and corruption in art, and the Cheap Art Manifesto, which states that “cheap art defies, ridicules, undermines and makes obsolete the sanctity of affluent-society economy”, “cheap art fights the business of art!”.
It’s a trendy statement to make, especially in the student movement, that activism can all be done on Twitter, or by writing a blog that your friends then share on Facebook.
This collection of protest tools reaffirmed for me that, whilst social media is a useful aid to organising, it will never replace the effectiveness of the simplicity and the emotion that goes into making tools for demonstrations and protests on the streets.
• The exhibition is free and runs until February next year.