When you are climbing the snail stair of the Reading Room in British Museum you know something different is about to happen.
There is nothing more thrilling than discovering ‘the freedom of speech and expression’ alive and well; there is nothing more exciting than the breaking of rules and conventionalism of societies and the smart slight of mind that circumvents unfair laws and mores with intelligence, sense, humour and Art. I Object delivers this frisson.
The moment you step in, you encounter an amazing unexpected social advance. There, in the first row, very visible for the eye, is a special catalogue for blind people in which the main artworks exhibited are reproduced in braille, which is both futuristic and humanistic. It is great to pass your fingers over the raised dots and feel art through another sense. I challenge all visitors to experience this. A complete success of the co-curators Ian Hislop and Tom Hockenhull from the museum. Thank you on behalf of the blind who are most times forgotten in exhibitions.
On the walls and in showcases of the main gallery are a variety of amazing artistic and daily objects from all times, from all places, used as weapons of peace to dissent from the more oppressive instincts of the establishment and express and spread an alternative opinion while trying to avoid deadly repercussions; stoning, burning at the stake, the guillotine, hanging, shooting or polonium poisoning at the worst; torture, jail, social rejection or censure at the best. More than artworks, they could be considered lifesavers and their makers, not only artists but heroes, in times of ignorance, intransigence and savagery, so dangerously near in their own times, not yet eradicated in ours.
Prints, drawings, books, sculptures, crafts, artifacts, posters, defaced coins and bank notes … among other delicacies, all concealing secret messages, some serious, others jokey but all short and sharp, as required for the situation.
From the banks of the river Nile in the kingdom of Cleopatra´s pornography to the Church´s edited and author´s unamended seedy Boccaccio´s Decameron, or a Bible which encourages sex sins, to the satirical Mexican cult of death, all teaming up with hidden political claims like the the suffragettes´ desperate cry, forever cast on coins, social denouncements or religious heresies written, carved or printed on all kinds of items.
The exhibition is a box of surprises you never know what is going to be next and the task of deciphering the messages makes the experience unpredictable, almost mysterious like in a game. At the exit you can write your own dissident´s statement on a wall.
A suggestion for the curators: If you ever bring it to Spain, consider including the figures of “Fallas” from Valencia, the lyrics of “Chirigotas” from Cádiz and the iconic cocktail “Cuba-libre” (rum with coke), some other of our Latin ways of dissent.
I am not going to give you more clues. Just say that like in a merry- go-round, when you finish, you want another ride. Hurry up it is opened until the 20th January.
From the British Museums briefing notes:
Uncovering a treasure trove of dissenting objects can be tricky. Private Eye Editor Ian Hislop hand-picked a range of 100 intriguing objects that explore the idea of dissent, subversion and satire.
A wide variety of objects are on display in the exhibition – from graffiti on a Babylonian brick to a banknote with hidden rude words, from satirical Turkish shadow puppets to a recently acquired ‘pussy’ hat worn on a women’s march. Unlock the messages and symbols these people used, and get closer to understanding them.
This history shows that people have always challenged and undermined orthodox views in order to enable change. Ultimately, the exhibition will show that questioning authority, registering protest and generally objecting are an integral part of what makes us human.
Susana Gómez Laín
Volume 33 no 3 January / February 2019 p9