The art of protest politics: From Hope to Nope at the Design Museum

Right-wing populism, as the politics student I am knows all too well, combines three ideologies. All three involve an “us against them” mentality. Us, the natives, against them, the foreigners. Us, the law-abiding, against them, the criminals and felons. But, most importantly and most prominently, it’s about us, the people, against them, the elite. Populism shifts the focus back to the average person on the streets and brings politics closer to home, or at least, that is the narrative.

“Slogans in nice typefaces won’t save the human races”, proclaims a flashy banner at the London Design Museum. But the exhibition itself shows that they can – tweetstorms, street protests and graphic magazines have always influenced politics both directly and indirectly, from “Labour isn’t working” banners in the 1979 run-up to the UK general election to last year’s women’s marches across the world. This is what Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18 at the London Design Museum in Kensington explores. From the global financial crash and the Arab Spring, to Women’s Marches, ISIS, Brexit and Trump, this exhibition depicts the numerous ways graphics have influenced key political moments, be it in organised political campaigns or informal street protests. Concurrently, the display shows us the influence of media and the internet on traditional graphic design, a trend which is only reinforced by the upcoming and increasingly popular new social media. As the new media facilitate mobilisation, it creates larger movements which, in turn, put more external pressures on the government. This is exemplified by events like the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in 2015 or Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011.

By exhibiting these graphics, one might say the art world has picked up on a populist element by turning street signs and graphic design, or more generally, “ordinary” people’s creations, into art. This is not a new phenomenon; art and politics have always been intertwined, and art movements started depicting and using everyday objects for their art decades ago. But this exhibition takes it to another level. From memes and tweets to posters and protest signs, graphics are used by the marginalised and powerful alike to shape political messages like never before. On the one hand, as I mentioned before, there is a parallel with populism in that graphics generally contain short, strong messages addressed to, and made by, the average citizen, just like populist parties argue they represent the average citizen and not the elite. On the other hand, this form of art shows a strong anti-populist stance, namely that art is not just made for the liberal, rich and educated, but for everyone and by everyone, allowing everyone to voice their opinion. This more liberal interpretation is definitely present throughout exhibition, as can be seen on the carefully curated Trump-wall in the last room of the display.

Modern, flashy, original and colourful, Hope to Nope brings you everything a good protest sign or advertisement should. The exposition runs until mid-August at the Design Museum in South Kensington – whether you are interested in politics, design, advertisement, marketing or you just want to make the best out of a rainy summer day in London, this popping, thought-provoking exhibition is highly recommended.


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