Disobedient Objects at the V&A is an exhibition about innovative tools of protest used around the world, ranging from the late 1970s to the present day. Although relatively small, it brims with information, highlighting well the surprising twists of ingenuity that those living under oppressive conditions can demonstrate when creating protest materials.
As described on the Disobedient Objects blog, it is about ‘out-designing authority’ and ‘the role of social movement cultures in re-making our world from below.’
The following are three exhibits that particularly intrigued and inspired me:
The Guerilla Girls are an American feminist organisation who, through this wickedly funny poster, emphasised male dominance in the art world and the all-pervasive male gaze:
One of the more sombre exhibits was a letter written by Herman Wallace, a Black Panther who was wrongfully imprisoned for a murder he didn’t commit alongisde two other Panthers (they became collectively known as the ‘Angola 3’). They are now very widely believed to have been framed for the murder – yet Wallace was kept in solitary confinement for 41 years. Tragically, he died in 2013, a few days after his conviction had finally been overturned.
A letter by Kenny ‘Zulu’ Whitmore, a prisoner who became politicised and joined the Black Panther movement when he met the Angola 3, is also on display. He is still campaigning to be freed and has even got a friend in prison to design ‘Free Zulu’ pendants, the sale of which go towards funding his legal campaign – you can buy one on eBay here.
On a lighter note, I saw an orange felt hat that didn’t look like much on it’s own. Yet, when contextualised, it came to take on much symbolic meaning. In communist Poland, 10,000 of these so-called ‘dwarf hats’ were worn at a protest which the protesters called the ‘Revolution of the Dwarves.’ When they were arrested, the farcical nature of the whole situation served to undermine the government and was a contributing factor to the overthrow of communism in Poland.
These are just three of 99 exhibits in Disobedient Objects that I’ve chosen to focus on, but the whole exhibition deserves a close look. Visit it before it ends on 1 February.