Disobedient Objects: A Subversive New Exhibition at the V&A

Victoria & Albert is one of my favorite museums, it is a source of inspiration and a destination for people who appreciate art and design. Every time I visit it, I either discover a section that I haven't visited before or enjoy a new exhibition at its Porter Gallery near the lobby. 

The exhibition focuses on the late 1970s and until present times; a period in which the world has witnessed the birth of new technologies, social and political challenges. The exhibition is the first of its kind at the V&A to explore objects of art and design from around the world that have been created by fundamental social movements as tools of social change.  

The exhibition featured forms of making that defy the standard definitions of art and design. Right at the entrance, two gorgeous mosaic art pieces carrying slogans of "Power to the People" and "History is a Weapon" will stand out, and you won't resist reading the powerful lines written on one of the pieces: "BEWARE OF ARTISTS: They mix with all classes of society and are therefore the most dangerous". 

Many of the exhibits, or the "Disobedient Objects", were directly borrowed from activist groups from around the world, bringing together for the first time many objects rarely before seen in a museum. Context was given to the visitor via newspaper cuttings, "how-to" guides and film segments content, including interviews and footage of the objects in action. Each design was also accompanied by the maker’s statement to explain how and for what aim the object in question was created. 

From pamphlets, puppets, tiny soviet union badges, political buttons and pins to larger installations, the exhibition displayed arts of rebellion from around the world in order to show that even with the most limited of resources, ordinary people can take design into their own hands; and in doing so, show how new advances in design technology have aided protests throughout the years. 

As you walk around the exhibition you find yourself surrounded with activists objects that have become through the years a symbol of revolution. From among the topics covered at the exhibition: votes for women campaigns, signs made by a collective of Indian farmers to protect small farms, guerrilla girls speaking against sexism, anti-death penalty statements, finger puppets to ridicule the Assad regime in Syria, Nelson Mandela's struggle, footage of armed policemen at recent May Day protests in Berlin, police corruption, representations of influential literature books such as How to Kill a Mockingbird, de-schooling society, racism, capitalism, obesity, discrimination, amongst many others. 

In short, I found that the exhibition is a brave and an unusual attempt to shed light on how design contributes to social change by either instigating direct action, speaking out, making worlds and promoting solidarity. It reminded me of important design interventions that accompanied social movements throughout history such as: the famous Graffiti art that made Che Guevara's face a world-known emblem and a symbol for revolution, 1919 Constructivist posters that promoted socialism in Russia, Pablo Picasso's famous Guernica painting that depicted the tragedies of the war in Spain in 1937 - now placed at the United Nations headquarters in New York, the "Keffiyeh" or "Shemagh" that became a symbol for the Palestinian struggle and revolution, and Obama's influential "Change" presidential campaign that reminded people of Martin Luther King (although not much has changed in the US after his election). 

In your opinion, what were some influential works of art and design throughout history? Share your thoughts below!


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