Disobedient Objects, Victoria & Albert Museum

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Another one of my favourite exhibitions that opened last year was Disobedient Objects at the Victoria & Albert Museum. The exhibition is a fantastic selection of objects associated with grassroots social and political protest from across the world since 1979, alongside explanation from their makers and contextual information regarding their circumstances. It's an exhibition which opened my eyes to the creativity, variety and ingenuity found in social and political movements, and the importance of art, design and creativity in these contexts. From banners embroidered by trade union groups and badges protesting segregation, to altered currency and giant inflatable 'cobblestones' for diffusing police-protester tension, it's filled with interesting objects with tangible history. There was a particular focus on objects of peaceful (if not 'obedient') protests, though a nod to the occasional violence of the fight for equality was made with the inclusion of a slingshot crafted from a child's shoe from the Second Intifada. (You can read more about the exhibition on its V&A page, or the exhibition blog).

The foundation of Disobedient Objects is the use of protest to challenge and change inequalities, something which I'm incredibly passionate about - it presents the objects creatively, yet in an environment which fits their original purposes. At a CreateInsights session I was lucky enough to attend, Catherine Flood (one of the co-curators of the exhibition) spoke about the importance of retaining the hand made, impromptu element of the objects on display - the utilitarian aesthetic remains, enhanced by thick chipboard construction and scaffolding poles. It is strange to see these objects separated from their context, something the curators (and creators) were concerned with, so, creators of the objects were involved in the process, ensuring that the stories of the objects were told directly by their creators alongside the museum's explanations. It's an interesting contrast given that museums can be seen as part of the 'establishment' many of these movements rail against, but I think the exhibition is an example of how the museum can elevate the ideas (and crafts) involved with these movements in order for them to be seen in a new light. There's no need for these movements to be 'legitimised', as they speak for themselves, but looking at a collection of human protest is truly awe-inspiring.

Every detail is carefully thought out - the graphics on the front of the exhibition, featuring the kinds of blockades made throughout history; the font, specially designed by Barnbrook; the 'Disobedient Objects' title above the entry constructed from cable ties on crowd barriers. I loved the inclusion of instructions on changing 'obedient' objects into 'disobedient' ones, such as the makeshift tear gas mask inspired by the protesters own innovations in Turkey, and the recognition that protest remains a huge feature of world politics, with new and inventive objects springing from them constantly - symbolised by a space left in the exhibition for another potential object. The objects on display often have strong emotional affect: particularly the ornamented truck featuring the death mask of an inmate on Death Row; the stencil graffiti which artists risked their lives to spray in Syria; and 'Roy's handkerchief', embroidered by the mother of a missing teenager from Mexico - a poignant reminder of the injustices faced all over the world today, and the people who keep fighting to ensure things change, and justice is done.
It gives him a name
It yells to the world that Roy was kidnapped
And is still missing,
In an absurd war in Mexico
And it also tells the world that Roy
has a family who loves him
and will never stop until they have found him
That there will be no peace until their is justice
and no justice without memory.
Your mother, Letty Hidalgo
- Irma Leticia Hidalgo