“Extinction Rebellion’s first public act was only in October last year, but it has become clear that their acts of rebellion have a visual character and identity that is singular,” said Corinna Gardner, senior curator of Design and Digital at the South Kensington museum.
The climate change movement is now represented in 59 countries across the world. In May, Extinction Rebellion protestors prompted the UK government to commit to reducing emissions to net zero by 2025 and declare a “climate and ecological emergency”.
This weekend, colourful Extinction Rebellion flags, printing blocks, banners and pamphlets went on display at the V&A. Digital artefacts in the collection include a downloadable file for 3D printers that enabled activists to create and use their own Extinction Rebellion printing block.
A bold hourglass symbol, the group’s distinctive logo, emblazons many of the acquired artefacts and signals that time is running out for the planet. It was designed by street artist ESP in 2011 and first used by the group in 2018.
The acquisition forms part of the V&A’s Rapid Response Collection, which responds to major moments in recent history. Other objects in this collection include a knitted “Pussyhat”, worn during the protests against the incoming Trump administration in 2017.
“Design has been key to Extinction Rebellion’s demands for urgent action on climate change,” Gardner explained. “My interest is how, through a really considered set of design choices, Extinction Rebellion have brought a joyous but also focused sense of purpose to their actions.”
But some critics have denounced the V&A’s new acquisition due to the group’s “anarchic” reputation. A non-violent Extinction Rebellion demonstration brought some of London’s busiest routes to a standstill in April. Police made 1,100 arrests throughout the 11-day long protest, which cost some £7.5 million.
One man was unable to reach his dying father at Bristol Royal Infirmary in July because of the “mayhem” caused by another protest on the M25.
“The V&A’s interest in Extinction Rebellion is peculiar. It gets a huge amount of taxpayers’ money and should understand that people need to go about their daily business,” commented Conservative MP, Kevin Hollinrake.
In response to the recent criticism, the V&A said in a statement: “Encouraging debate and discussion around topical issues and being a place for civic discussion is central to the V&A mission… These Extinction Rebellion objects are evidence of how design has been used to galvanise public concern for the planet on a global scale.”