When we decided to go to the Victoria and Albert Museum, I didn’t have many expectations. I’d been before, and aside from the fashion displays, the V&A was never one of my top stops in London. Imagine my surprise when we discovered– in the midst of British textiles, and European busts– a thought provoking exhibit exploring revolutionary things, called “Disobedient Objects.“
The exhibit showcases varying objects that have supported social movements from the 1970s to present day. On display, are poster signs, quotes inspiring action, and other objects created to defy political institutions, and to symbolize human rights around the world. As a whole, the exhibit showcases the ways that seemingly simple objects can serve as points of resistance.
The above picture, also the cover of the exhibit’s catalogue, gives directions on how to create a protective mask from a water bottle. Protestors from many recent “occupy” movements used these masks to protect themselves from getting hit by police with tear gas.
When I think of protest movements, I usually think about the past. But, what was chilling about this exhibit was how recent many of these social movements were, some happening now (i.e. police brutality, LGBTQ rights, Palestine, budget cuts in schools). I wouldn’t consider myself ignorant to what’s going on in the rest of the world, or walking distance from my Oakland flat, but I guess I hadn’t really contextualized our reality– the daily grind of people all around the world fighting for safety, education, peace… As I walked through the powerful exhibit, it felt like I was looking in a mirror.
Our reality is already being curated, and soon it will be neatly organized onto a timeline in our children’s history books. This exhibit not only highlights the revolutionary nature of signs, buttons, or water bottles, but it also reminds us that social movements aren’t glorified moments of the past, but critical conditions of our present.
The question that always runs through my head when I think about my position as someone who wants to see social change is, how can my actions bring actual change, rather than mereley being an echo of the past? What happens with movements when the marches are over… when the objects of disobedience are obsolete?
* On a side note, it felt a bit strange to be in the ornate V&A, which– let’s be honest– reeks of the legacy of colonization, while observing an exhibit that responds to the disobedient usage of money and power.
All photos were taken by my lil’ ol’ iphone 4s– no filter.
Disobedient Objects will be open and free to the public, until 1 February 2015.