Graphics and Politics 2008-18
The past ten years have been a turbulent decade with a strong increase in the public’s engagement with politics. The Design Museum aimed to explore how graphic design and technology has influenced the major political movements in the 21st century with their recent exhibition Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18. Incorporating a whole range of artwork from posters and placards to protest badges and memes, the museum delved deep into the public’s reaction to the 2008 financial crisis, global protests and the election campaigns of divisive leaders to produce a diverse and provocative exhibition. Hope to Nope was split into three sections, which focused on power, protest and personality.
DISCLAIMER: The views displayed in the exhibition are those of the individuals and organisations that created them – some of which may cause offence. The Design Museum does not necessarily agree with such views, nor does it consider them to be necessarily justified, truthful or accurate.
Unfortunately, the final two weeks of the exhibition were disrupted after a selection of exhibits were removed by the lender in protest of a private event held at the museum by an aerospace and defence company. Nevertheless, there were enough exhibits remaining to make the trip to the museum worthwhile. Purportedly, the first artwork in the exhibition was the street artist and graphic designer Shepard Fairey’s (b1970) Hope poster for Barrack Obama’s (b1961) presidential campaign in 2008, which went on to win the Design Museum’s Design of the Year in 2009. This distinctive style has been imitated by hundreds of amateur designers to produce satirical, anti-politician posters, for instance, an image of Donald Trump (b1946) with the word “nope”.
The red, white and blue colour combination that Fairey used, distracted people from Obama’s race, which is what many American’s fixated on, and portrayed him as a patriotic citizen instead. Being simple and easy to reproduce, the artwork spread rapidly throughout the states and online, quickly becoming recognised and adopted by Obama supporters. Fairey is happy to see his work being parodied for various means of activism, especially because the Hope poster has no political power, yet is used by people to make a powerful statement.
“Design is always political.”
– Mike Monteiro
Other political campaigns shown included Hillary Clinton’s (b1947) election posters, North Korean posters, North Korean stamps, which mock the United States, and various responses to “Brexit”.
Graphic design targetted at “Brexit” began as soon as David Cameron (b1966) announced a British Referendum on 23rd June 2016. Two years later, campaigners are still producing new posters or digital graphics. Examples shown at the Design Museum included the Britain Stronger in Europe Campaign which produced many materials to persuade voters to opt to remain part of the EU. Playing on the word “in” with visual reference to the flag of the United Kingdom, posters and flags stating “Vote Remain” were prominent throughout the months leading up to the referendum. The designers also produced t-shirts for protestors to wear with the short phrase “I’M IN” boldly written across the chest.
Earlier this year, with the fate of “Brexit” not yet fully realised, The Sun created a spoof timeline of events based on the Bayeux Tapestry. Humorously titled Bye-EU Tapestry, this was the newspaper’s response to the president of France’s decision to lend the original 950-year-old tapestry to the UK. Using the similar style of figures that were embroidered to show the victory of the Normans in 1066, this version shows the “historic Brexit victory” over the EU. The captions mock medieval spellings with words such as “announceth” and “emergeth”, whilst the Queen is shown to be declaring the UK is “better orf out.”
“You have the technology to affect history.”
In the past century or two, more inventions than the rest of history combined have been invented, culminating in the current digital age. With the opening of the internet for public use in 1991, online graphics and social media have rapidly grown to a point where almost everyone is influenced by it in some way or form. Within the exhibition was a detailed, wall-length infographic showing the timeline of social media and its crucial role in politics.
A decade after the internet became available, the leading information website Wikipedia was born. This allowed people to search for answers to absolutely anything they desired. With pages about well-known celebrities to the most obscure form of fungi, Wikipedia quickly became a popular website by internet users, particularly school students who no longer needed to read books to complete their coursework. Regrettably, the accuracy of the information on Wikipedia is far from one-hundred per cent; anyone with an account can log in and change information, purposely misleading readers – not so good for homework after all!
The first major social media platform arrived in 2003, allowing individuals to connect with friends and strangers all over the world. On Myspace, people could personalise their pages, upload photographs, share their favourite music and even list their top ten friends. in 2008, Myspace became the stage for Obama’s presidential candidate campaign.
In 2006, Myspace was usurped by Mark Zuckerberg’s (b1984) Facebook, which currently has approximately 2.23 billion monthly active users, and Jack Dorsey’s (b1976) Twitter, a popular news and social networking service with 335 million active users. The latter was President Trump’s preferred means of spreading his policies and encouraging people to vote for him.
In 2007, the way people could access the internet changed completely with the invention of the most popular brand of smartphone, the iPhone. As well as being able to make phone calls, the iPhone functioned as a pocket-sized computer with easy internet access even when away from home. Soon, applications were developed to perform in this new format, including the free secure messaging platform Whatsapp in 2009 and the photo and video-sharing social network Instagram in 2010.
No matter the brand, all forms of social media allow individuals to explore beyond their friendship circles, discovering people and ideas from across the planet in only a matter of seconds. This allows people of power to voice their opinions and influence billions of people all over the globe. Whilst this may have huge benefits, particularly in awareness campaigns, it can also have a tremendous negative effect.
Digital technology has allowed for the invention of GIFs and memes that are “liked”, “posted” and “retweeted” by thousands of people every day. GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format which is essentially a moving image. The majority of these are split-second clips of videos, which, when posted on social media, are removed from their original context and often gain new meaning. A GIF of someone laughing, for instance, may be tagged onto a “post” that someone finds funny.
A meme can be defined as “an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.” The word was coined by Richard Dawkins (b1941) in an attempt to explain the way information spreads. A particular meme that the Hope to Nope exhibition focused on was Pepe the Frog.
Pepe the Frog was a cartoon amphibian with a humanoid-like body created by Matt Furie (b1979) in 2005 for a comic called Boy’s Club. It quickly became an internet sensation with people sharing Pepe with various facial expressions as a way of displaying opinions about certain ideas. Variants include “sad frog”, “smug frog” and “feels frog”.
Whilst the Pepe meme was initially harmless, Furie was dismayed when the innocent green frog became a “hate symbol” used by white-supremacists. In 2016, Pepe became associated with Donald Trump who “tweeted” a version of the frog drawn to look like himself with the tagline “you can’t stump the trump.” Later, Pepe was used as a means of attacking Hillary Clinton’s election campaign in a supposedly humorous manner.
Social media has provided plenty of opportunities for anyone to create memes and parodies of well-known ideas. This has been particularly beneficial for campaign groups, such as Greenpeace. In 2017, Greenpeace launched their Don’t Let Coke Choke Our Oceans campaign in order to raise awareness of plastic pollution, the greatest threat to marine life. Appropriating Coke’s branding, the environmental organisation launched an attack on one of the biggest sellers of plastic bottled beverages. As well as spreading their message online, Greenpeace campaigners went into shops, placing cleverly crafted labels over Coke bottles to make the product look like an empty, ocean-weathered piece of plastic.
More often than not, memes and parodies are deliberately comical, spreading ideas through light-heartedness rather than going for the shock factor. The clothing company Diesel, parodied the 1960’s anti-war slogan “make love not war” to advertise what they believe in, not just as a merchandiser, but as a global brand as well. By altering the phrase to “make love not walls”, Diesel is making a stand against hate, stating that their products are for everyone and they wish all could live in harmony.
The advertisements for “make love, not walls” uses symbolic imagery such as a rainbow coloured tank and happy people dressed in a “hippy” style holding flowers to represent freedom and love.
“At Diesel, we have a strong position against hate and more than ever we want the world to know that, to use our voice for good, love and togetherness is crucial in creating a society we all want to live in, and the future we all deserve.”
Nicola Formichetti – Diesel Artistic Director
Although the company declares their motives were to emphasise their position against hate, it is so soon after President Trump’s notion of building a wall between the USA and Mexico that many may wonder if there is a subliminal political agenda hidden within their advertisements.
Whilst social media has been used for spreading radical ideas and campaigns, for instance, in 2015 the hashtag “#JeSuisCharlie” was tweeted 6500 times a minute the day after the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, physical protests and demonstrations have been the go-to method for campaigners for hundreds of years. Graphic design plays a vital role offline as much as it does online. Posters, badges and placards need to be carefully designed to attract attention and provoke debate. Even the suffragettes developed their own branding at the beginning of the 20th century.
The Hope to Nope exhibition focused on a handful of demonstrations from the past decade, including video footage of marches and loud protests. A great deal of effort was focused on the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which occurred on 14th June 2017 and is still close to many Londoners’ hearts. A year on from the worst residential fire since the Second World War, hundreds of green-clad activists took part in a Justice for Grenfell Solidarity March demanding justice for the victims who lost their homes and loved ones. Investigations revealed that the incident was an accident waiting to happen and people are still angry about the way the situation was handled.
Designers with links to the Grenfell Tower designed badges for protesters to wear. The Green for Grenfell and the Unity Heart pins are a symbol of hope, unity and love to be worn in memory of the 72 lives lost. British politicians, including the current Prime Minister, were seen to support the appeal.
The Grenfell disaster also inspired an art project titled 24Hearts which was begun by a local artist, Sophie Lodge. The initial plan was to produce 24 handmade hearts to represent each floor of the tower, however, with help from school children and residents in the area, over 100 hearts have been made. Many of these were used as placards during silent protest marches.
Hanging from the ceiling at the exhibition was an enormous blowup rubber duck sporting the Spanish phrase “Chega de Pagar o Pato”, which translates into English as “I Will Not Pay the Duck”. In Brazil, the phrase “pay the duck” refers to taking the blame for something that is not your fault and was adopted by the São Paulo State Federation of Industries in protest against rising taxes. Although a rubber duck may look childish or make people laugh, it definitely catches people’s attention.
Another protest the Design Museum focused on was the ongoing Women’s March, which began on the first day of Donald Trump’s presidency. Since then, around 914 women-led marches have occurred all over the globe with over 4.5 million voices protesting against Trump’s attitude towards women and people of minority. Rather than branding their campaign with a specific design, the majority of placards have been handmade with angry or witty slogans that reflect Trump’s behaviour.
President Trump got more than his fair share of attention during the Hope to Nope exhibition. The final section focused on personality and identity, which is something Trump has been strongly aware of throughout his career as a politician. In the lead up to the presidential election, Trump and his supporters were recognised by their red caps with the slogan “Make America Great Again.” Powerful leaders are often obsessed with their image and this was only the beginning of Trump’s attempt to create a memorable identity for himself. Unfortunately, it has also lead to numerous satirical cartoons in magazines and newspapers.
The opinions about Donald Trump are divided into love and hate, nearly all of the museum’s examples stemming from the latter. The most controversial exhibit, by a long shot, was the All-Seeing Trump machine which was launched in 2016, a month before the presidential election. Resembling a fortune teller machine that could usually be found in early 20th-century penny arcades, the Trump-dummy gives users a greeting followed by a promise for the future. These promises are based on what anti-Trump campaigners believed would happen with him in power, for instance, “a terrific nuclear war” and changing Obamacare to “I don’t care”.
Many other politicians have been the target of ridicule in recent years, particularly members of the current British parliament. The final pieces in the exhibition drew attention to a few opinions about Prime Minister Theresa May (b1956) and other Tory MPs. In 2017, illustrator Chris Riddell (b1962) produced a series of political cartoons of May wearing her trademark leopard-print kitten heels in savagely humorous situations. The artist has been portraying the PM in this manner since 2002 when she was the Home Secretary, as well as other important figures.
Theresa May has also been depicted many times on the cover of Private Eye, a current affairs magazine currently edited by Ian Hislop (b1960). Although the magazine aims to tell the truth about world affairs, it illustrates articles with high-brow humour and cartoons. Usually, the cover page includes a photograph of prominent individuals overlayed with comical speech bubbles and topical captions. Despite its satirical nature, Private Eye does not try to influence people’s opinions or political preferences.
The aim of Hope to Nope was to express the importance of graphic design in politics. Whilst there were many opinions, some which may have caused insult, the focus was on the way graphic design was used to get these views across. Often, graphic designers are forgotten about, their hard work unappreciated, whereas, in reality, their contributions are frequently the key to success. This exhibition helped to open people’s minds to the presence of the people who help to make a political campaign or protest visible and memorable.
The Design Museum’s exhibition Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18 closed on 12th August 2018, however, leftover merchandise from the gift shop may still be available online or from the museum.
DISCLAIMER: Similarly to the Design Museum, I do not necessarily agree with everything I have discussed in this blog, nor do I consider them to be necessarily justified, truthful or accurate.