Review: I object – Ian Hislop’s search for dissent, British Museum

A winner of our student writing competition, Sarphia Stratford explores subversion and satire in the British Museum and discovers that the spirit of dissent has been alive and well for three millennia.

At first glance there is nothing overtly dramatic or theatrical about I Object – the exhibition is calm, quiet and dimly lit. This is symbolic of the nature of the show; instead of featuring paraphernalia taken from violent protest, the exhibition features rather more subtle examples of dissent.

Editor of Private Eye and co-curator Ian Hislop wanted to challenge the established narrative that the British Museum is just a collection of artefacts from history’s rulers, and instead demonstrate how ordinary people have always made their voices heard. Examples include minute drawings or engravings on coins – an easy way to circulate a message to the masses – and ornate African rugs with hidden messages, as well as the famous Peckham Rock, secreted into the British Museum by artist Banksy to poke fun at the restraint and sobriety of its displays.

Around the exhibition there are several opportunities for visitors to express their own political views. A large display of paper circles invites viewers to create their own protest badge, an interesting way for current political opinion to slip into a display of objects from times gone by.

Although I Object does not present chaotic, raucous examples of dissent, it is thought-provoking in that it allows ‘dissent’ to become accessible to the ordinary person. The viewer is able to see protest displayed in ways they might be able to enact in their own lives, highlighting the relevance and importance of political expression throughout human existence.

I Object – Ian Hislop's search for dissent is 50% off with National Art Pass and Student Art Pass (£12 standard), until 20 January 2019, British Museum, London.


Sarphia Stratford is currently studying physiotherapy in London, and loves exploring and discovering more about the arts.

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