Review: Hope to Nope, the Design Museum

Published 15 June 2018

Art Quarterly editor Helen Sumpter takes a look at the relationship between graphic design and political upheaval in the 21st century.

US presidents bookend Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18, which highlights through displays of banners, badges, quilts, placards, animations, filmed footage, T-shirts and hats, among other items, how graphic design has been used to engage with social, political and environmental upheavals worldwide during the past decade. The first image on view is Shepard Fairey’s 2008 Hope poster featuring Barack Obama’s portrait, made in the year of his first election victory. Towards the end of the exhibition is The All-Seeing Trump, a fairground-style ‘(mis)fortune’- telling cabinet, initially installed in New York in 2016, pre-US election. At the push of a big red button, an animatronic dummy of Donald Trump proclaims the future. ‘We’re going to have a terrific nuclear war, it’s going to be incredible,’ is one prediction.

Entertaining as it is, this Trump is more of a sideshow to the main displays which, loosely divided into three sections – Power, Protest and Personality – persuasively illustrate the visual ingenuity of individuals and organisations in getting their various messages across. Exhibits range from a handmade green heart placard made in 2017 in response to the Grenfell fire tragedy, to a colourful, six-minute infographic animation by Munich-based YouTube channel Kurzgesagt, succinctly explaining the current refugee crisis.

The thread running through it all, however, is the rapid development during the past 10 years of information sharing and social-media platforms. They may employ highly simplified graphic icons as their brand identities but there’s nothing unsophisticated about the extraordinary international reach and potential influence, for good and ill, we now know they can have.

Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18 is £9 with National Art Pass (£12 standard), until 12 August 2018, Design Museum, London.

This review was originally published in the summer 2018 issue of Art Quarterly, the magazine of Art Fund.

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