History, as somebody wise once said, is just one damned thing after another. But is it really? Who decides what is ‘history’?
Traditionally, the answer is ‘the winners’. But in this exhibition we’re setting out to investigate what the other people had to say – the downtrodden, the forgotten, the protestors. They left their marks on objects, just as the official view has, and these dissenting objects are also to be found in the British Museum’s collection. You just need to know where to look...
We realise that uncovering a treasure trove of dissenting objects can be tricky. Luckily, we’ve found someone who can help. We’ve invited Private Eye Editor Ian Hislop (you know, the one from Have I Got News For You) to have a rummage around in the stores. On his search, he’s hand-picked a range of intriguing objects that explore the idea of dissent, subversion and satire (but don’t worry, we made him wear gloves).
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. See what tales these objects tell – sometimes deadly serious, often humorous, always with conviction. Unlock the messages and symbols these people used, and get closer to understanding them. The British Museum doesn’t escape ridicule either – the joke has been on us on more than one occasion.
This history in 100(ish) objects shows that people have always challenged and undermined orthodox views in order to enable change. They even did so despite the establishment usually taking a pretty dim view – for most of history you could expect a gruesome punishment, up to and including death, for this kind of subversive behaviour. This suggests that maybe we are programmed to dissent – it’s just part of who we are. Ultimately, the exhibition will show that questioning authority, registering protest and generally objecting are an integral part of what makes us human.