Disobedient Objects – reviews of protest design show at V&A

Jul 29, 2014

Critics call 'imaginative, thought-provoking' activist design show 'one of the best this year'

The Bread and Puppet Theatre, © Jonathan Slaff
What you need to know

A new exhibition of design used in political activism, Disobedient Objects, has opened at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The show looks at the art and design of protest movements focusing on the period from the 1970s to the present day.

Items on display include a suffragette teacup, protest banners, defaced currency, designs for barricades and blockades, political video games, experimental activist-bicycles and a giant inflatable cobblestone. Runs until 1 February 2015. 

What the critics like

This "imaginative and thought-provoking show" has never been more relevant, or uncomfortable, says Rachel Campbell-Johnston in The Times. The atmospheric presentation, with its barricade entrance and rough chipboard display stands, shows design not just as a decorative luxury, but as a driving force in the changing of the world.

This exhibition, one of the best so far this year, is "far from a nostalgic return to a golden age of 1960s rebellion, but a call to resist authority right now", says Zoe Pilger in The Independent. The skill of the curators is to bring together objects from disparate movements while telling a coherent story about the fight for basic human rights.

The "surprisingly moving" exhibits include handkerchiefs embroidered by Mexican mothers to remember their "disappeared" children and a slingshot made from a Palestinian child's shoe, says in the Evening Standard. It is designed to remind visitors that while they may be uncomfortable with seeing items related to ongoing struggles, they too can become as obedient an object of study as a teacup, as uncontentious as votes for women. 

What they don't like

There is, inevitably, something jarring about showing the artefacts of raw protest in the genteel surroundings of the V&A, says Rowan Moore in The Guardian. "The trap of making bloody struggles into an aesthetic diversion is one the show doesn't completely escape", but it is still a thought-provoking and mind-nourishing show.                    

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