The Artists Saying ‘Nope’ to the Arms Industry

This is another great little video from Novara media, posted on YouTube on the 17th October 2018, about a group of artists, who withdrew their work from the Design Museum and exhibited elsewhere. This is the Nopetoarms collective, a group of radical artists protesting against the arms industry.

They made the decision to withdraw their works following the announcement that the museum would be hosting a reception for Leonardo, the 9th largest arms company in the world. Novara’s Ash Sarkar tweeted that it was a case of the British art establishment coopting radical artists to stay relevant, and ‘facilitating the social calendar of slaughterers to stay wealthy’. They also told her it was a private event, and she had to use other entrances and exits. One of the artists, Glen Orton, states that the movement contained work by Syrian artists, the Hong Kong movement, and other protest groups, who’d been teargassed, beaten, bombed. He was ‘gobsmacked’ that they even considered hosting the company. The Museum stated that they could not immediately commit to refusing money from the arms, oil and tobacco industries.

Another artist, Jess Worth, states that when the time came to move their works, there were forty people in the collective, which now comprised a third of the exhibition. The artists then decided to exhibit their work themselves, on their own terms. Charlie Waterhouse, another artist with the group, states that once the decision was made to remove their work, the Museum’s PR machine attacked them by claiming they were trying to shut down free speech and stop people seeing the exhibition. This made them think that putting the show back on would be a good thing. The exhibition is now being held in the basement of a leisure centre in Brixton, where it is curated and controlled by the artists themselves.

Worth explains that they wanted their exhibition to be free, unlike the Design Museum, which charged 12 pounds, the artists would write the labels themselves, so that it would present the work in the way they wanted. They wanted it grounded in community. They also wanted to make it accessible to people, who wouldn’t normally go to an art gallery.

Waterhouse also explains why the art is hung on clothes pegs from fences. It’s so that people say, ‘Oh, I can do that. Then, ‘I can do that’, and go and do it.

The video explains that oil and arms funding in the arts industry is a massive problem. Worth explains that being in a museum space conveys the impression that a company’s work is legitimate, because otherwise they wouldn’t be allowed to be there. This is immensely valuable to the companies involved.

Waterhouse goes on to say that this has got to stop. On the one hand, they’re taking money from the arms industry. On the other, they’re levering cachet from the artists’ work without paying them. It’s a scam, he concludes.

The video also explains that the collective would like to do more. Worth says that what they’d really like to see is museums and other cultural bodies having a code of fundraising ethics, determining who they will and won’t take money from, that’s really clear on their website that everyone can see.

Waterhouse says that it’s time for artists to mobilise, to realise that their ethics, morals and feelings are valid, and they don’t just have to kowtow to the money.

Orton ends the video by saying that the Design Museum doesn’t know what it’s done.

The video shows the works of art as they’re displayed in the leisure. They not only comment explicitly on the arms industry, corruption and other issues, but also on the exploitation of the poor and working class through zero hours contracts. And among the iconic figures used in the works there’s David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust.

I think it’s really great that these artists have stood up for their beliefs against the arms industry, and that they’re encouraging their public to get involved and create their own pieces as well. I wish them all the best for their exhibition.

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