New Exhibition Traces History of Graphic Design and Politics

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Design and politics have had an immense crossover the past decade. Whether you consider the “Hope” poster campaign by Shepard Fairey for Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008, or the fashion label Balenciaga, which created an entire line of clothing devoted to Bernie Sanders, there has never been a more vital time for politics and design.

The Design Museum in London is opening a new exhibition on March 28 that taps into this crossover. Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008–18 showcases more than 160 objects, wall-works and installations that trace the history of graphic design and politics, from political posters to placards and banners that chart the rise of digital media and social networking, to the 2008 financial crash, the rise of Obama’s presidency, the Arab Spring in Egypt, the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Charlie Hebdo attacks, as well as more recent examples, like Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidency.

“As traditional media rubs shoulders with the hashtag and the meme, never has graphic design been more critical in giving everyone a political voice,” says the co-curator Lucienne Roberts, who curated the show alongside David Shaw and Rebecca Wright.

There will be politically themed memes in the show, as well as Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution, which was when protestors in 2014 stood up against an electoral reform. There is also a photo showing a staged protest with a huge rubber duck from Sao Paulo, which called to impeach Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff. (Though, the duck’s design was also said to be a rip-off of Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman’s art project.)

political design; protest design

Protest-in-Brazil | Credit: Charles Albert Sholl

“This has been a politically volatile decade,” Roberts says. “The global financial crash of 2008 and its aftermath have shaken people’s confidence in the prevailing order, and the political landscape is increasingly polarized between left- and right-wing agendas, with the reaction against the establishment culminating in the surprise results of the Brexit referendum and the 2016 U.S. election.”

The exhibition is divided into three different sections: Power, Protest and Personality. The Power section looks into how governments show their authority through a kind of iconography and graphic design, which is often subverted by activists and opponents. There are images of propaganda from North Korea, images from the “I’m With Her” campaign for Hillary Clinton, as well as Soviet posters that were turned into a gay rights campaign. There is also a flag designed by American artist Dread Scott, which was used to support the Black Lives Matter movement. A sculpture in the show from 2008 marks Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, the giant letter ‘N’ signifying the word “Newborn.”

activist design

Je Suis Charlie banner outside Palais de Tokyo | Credit: Paul SKG

The exhibition’s Protest section includes graphic design by activists, like newspapers from the Occupy London camp from 2011, actual umbrellas used during from Hong Kong’s umbrella revolution, and fabric posters from the Je Suis Charlie and Peace for Paris marches from 2015. All in all, they highlight how graphic design has been used as a tool for solidarity.

In the Personality section, the design shows how political figures have used design for branding, like in Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign, in which he put his name on a Nike T-shirt, or Trump’s trademark caricatures (highlighting his hair) that have been featured on more than 50 magazine covers this past year. There is also a Guy Fawkes mask, which represents the Anonymous hacktivist movement. “Originally drawn by David Lloyd for the V for Vendetta graphic novel, the mask has evolved into a symbol of resistance worldwide,” Roberts says. #gallery-1 { margin: auto; } #gallery-1 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 50%; } #gallery-1 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-1 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */

(left) Corbyn swoosh | Credit: Bristol Street War; (right) Corbyn Dabbing | Credit: Reuben Dangoor

Occupy Wall-Street 2011 | Credit: David E. Cooley

Occupy Wall-Street | Credit: Jason Lester #gallery-2 { margin: auto; } #gallery-2 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 50%; } #gallery-2 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-2 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */

(left) International Women’s Day | Credit: Steve Rapport; (right) The New Yorker | Credit: David Plunkert

It gets nasty in the 2017 section, where a magazine cover for The New Yorker shows Donald Trump sitting in a boat with a Ku Klux Klan sail. There’s also a “Hope to Hate” poster placard from the Women’s March on Washington from last year. One memo
rable highlight from the Occupy Wall Street movement protests includes a man wearing a spray-painted T-shirt reading, “I am the 99%.”

“Fuelling these events has been an extraordinary proliferation of graphic messages,” Roberts says. “People are more politically engaged than they have been for years, and the rise of social media has meant that they can disseminate political iconography as never before.”

“Remain” campaign | Credit: Britain Stronger In Europe

Oregon Anti-Trump Rally, January 2017 | Credit: Scott Wong

Images courtesy of the Design Museum, London

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