Artists demand removal of their work from Design Museum following arms trade event

By agency reporter
July 25, 2018

A large group of artists, designers and activists have written to the Design Museum asking that their work be removed from the current Hope to Nope exhibition of political art. The letter and signatories can be found here.

The Hope to Nope exhibition, which runs until August 12th 2018, explores "how graphic design and technology have played a pivotal role in dictating and reacting to the major political moments of our times."

The unprecedented move by artists follows revelations that last Tuesday, 17 July 2018, the museum hosted an arms industry event as part of the Farnborough International arms fair.

The event was hosted and organised by Leonardo, which is estimated to be the world's ninth largest arms company. Leonardo has armed and supported human rights abusing regimes and dictatorships around the world; including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Philippines.

The letter, which has so far been signed by 30 artists and organisations who have contributed work to the exhibition or have work in the permanent collection or on sale in the shop, says: “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.”

The letter asks for the work to be removed by 1 August, and calls on the museum to adopt "a publicly-available ethical funding policy that specifically refuses any funds from industries widely accepted as inappropriate partners for arts organisations, namely arms, tobacco and fossil fuel companies." 

The letter has also been signed by artists, curators and speakers who were part of Design Museum events accompanying the exhibition.

Sampson Wong, from Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement, said: "I lent objects to the museum which I saved from the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests for democracy in Hong Kong. I am shocked that at the same time as they superficially celebrate our protest materials, the museum is hosting a reception for companies like Chemring, the arms dealers who supplied the tear gas that was used on us."

Danny Chivers from activist theatre troupe BP or not BP? said: “Our object in Hope to Nope – a Shakespearean ruff in the shape of the BP logo – specifically challenges the unethical funding of arts institutions. So it’s jaw-dropping that the museum hosted an event for one of the most unethical industries on the planet while displaying our object on its wall. Arms dealers and fossil fuel companies both promote conflict and destruction around the world, and no respectable museum should be working with either of these industries.

"The Museums Association recommends a transparent ethical funding policy as basic good practice for any museum, and a way to avoid controversial situations like this one. We made this point in person to the museum’s Chair of Trustees Peter Mandelson and its co-Director Deyan Sudjic at the exhibition launch back in April, but it seems they didn’t listen.”

Sarah Waldron of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) said: “Companies like Leonardo have armed and supported human rights abusers and dictatorships across the world. When they host events in cultural institutions and museums it is because they are seeking a veneer of legitimacy for their terrible business. By hosting them the Design Museum is giving both moral and practical support to an industry based on death and destruction.”

Sarah Corbett, Craftivist Collective whose Mini Banner craftivism DIY kits are for sale in the museum shop said: “I am shocked by this as the Design Museum provides such an important public service. Museums need to make ends meet, but surely this is not the right way to do it. I hope our stand encourages the Museum to adopt an ethical funding policy as a matter of urgency. I have asked them to stop selling my craftivism DIY kits until such a policy is in place.”

Jamie from Bristol Streetwear, whose Corbyn Nike swoosh T-shirt features in the exhibition, said: “Anything to do with arms, their supply or any connection with them isn’t something we want to be associated with. Forward-thinking exhibition in one room but arms trade show in the other. Really? That doesn’t work.”

In 2015, Campaign Against Arms Trade wrote to the Museum to inquire about its ethical policies and was assured “that we do take our responsibilities very seriously in this area and have a due diligence and sponsorship policy in place to this effect.”

The artists only learned about the event as it coincided with a talk at the museum about the role of design in the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. Ash Sarkar, a participant in that talk and signatory to the letter, learned that the other event happening in the building was an arms reception and tweeted about it.

The Design Museum is just the latest of several museums to come under intense criticism over its support for the arms trade. In 2012, the National Gallery ended its contract with Finmeccanica (now Leonardo) a year early following protests at its hosting of Farnborough and DSEI-related events. In 2014, the Natural History Museum confirmed it had refused to host the annual Farnborough reception, following pressure from campaigners. In 2016, protesters staged a die-in at the Farnborough arms fair reception at the Science Museum. Since then, the annual reception – having been forced out of three museums – has been held at the arms fair itself instead.

CAAT says the Leonardo booking at the Design Museum appears to be an attempt by the arms industry to continue holding events in London museums, despite the huge controversy of previous years. It says the Design Museum must have known that this would be a controversial booking, hence the secrecy around the nature of the event itself, with participants in the Hope to Nope talk on the same evening being told to use separate entrances.

This week's action by artists comes just four months after performers threatened to pull out of the Great Exhibition of the North over its sponsorship by BAE Systems. The sponsorship in that case did not go ahead.

* Read the letter and see the signatories here

* Campaign Against Arms Trade


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