Activist Objects Unite in Radical V&A Exhibition

Activist Objects Unite in Radical V&A Exhibition
Arts & Culture

The tools used to overthrow the system are put on display in the London gallery

Vashti Hallissey
  • 5 august 2014

When you enter a museum, it’s easy to feel that you’re leaving the real world behind to look at some pretty pictures or objects that were once important. The latest exhibition at the V&A; brings reality crashing in, with protest tools you will recognise from the news. The items on display have been used in struggles for freedom that are still being fought today, demonstrating the importance of objects in movements for social change.

While it includes some earlier objects, such as a suffragette teapots and scarves, Disobedient Objects focuses on the period from 1970s to the present day. This has been, and still is, a time of enormous social and political upheaval and technological change in which many grassroots movements have made themselves heard.

These radical items include inflatable cobblestones thrown at demonstrations in Barcelona, Chilean textiles that document political violence and a Russian gay rights placard used in anti-government protests in Moscow in 2012. The historical context of every artefact is explained through interviews, newspaper clippings and footage of the objects in action.

Occupy London Stock Exchange Capitalism is Crisis banner.jpg

The exhibition explores the different ways in which objects of civil disobedience are made. Some are created from everyday objects such as Bike Bloc, which was used in the Reclaim Power Protests in 2009 in Copenhagen and were made by welding together discarded bicycles and audio equipment. Other methods include hacking to engineer an anti-surveillance drone and traditional crafts to sew modern-day protest banners.

Martin Roth, Director of the V&A; says in the exhibition press release:

This exhibition celebrates the creative ‘disobedience’ of designers and makers who question the rules. It shows that even with the most limited of resources, ordinary people can take design into their own hands. This is a brave and unusual exhibition; these are brave and unusual designers. We are proud to present their work.

Disobedient Objects teaches visitors about different types of protest tool, including political puppetry, lock-ons that attach activists to protest sites and shields such as those used by protestors against education cuts during 2010-2011 which are decorated to look like book covers.


Visitors can make their own protest tools at home with the help of how-to guides which are available to download. Options include a tear-gas face mask or a bucket pamphlet bomb which explodes with leaflets to disseminate information.

Fittingly for an exhibition that concerns the ways people have fought to have a voice in society, each design is accompanied by the maker’s statement to explain how and why it was created.

Disobedient Objects breaks all the rules of a traditional art exhibition. It invites a radical reality into the museum, giving centre stage to the objects that people use to rebel against the system. The free exhibition runs until February 1 2015, visitors should expect to be shocked and inspired by what they see.

Disobedient Objects

Image credits: Inflatable cobblestone, action of Eclectic Electric Collective in cooperation with Enmedio collective during the General Strike in Barcelona 2012. © Oriana Eliçabe/

Occupy London Stock Exchange, Capitalism is Crisis banned, Used 2009-12 © Immo Klink

[h/t] crackajack


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