In September, as the largest arms fair in the world opens on one side of the Thames River in London, a protest art exhibition will open on the other. “Art the Arms Fair,” now in its second iteration, is a response to the biennial Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI), and a protest against the United Kingdom’s engagement in the global arms trade.
The 2017 edition of “Art the Arms Fair” featured Banksy’s Civilian Drone (2017), a painting of three drones flying above a drawing of a bombed house and raised £205,000 ($273,000) to benefit anti-war campaigns. This year’s show will be held at Maverick Projects in Peckham from September 3rd to 13th, and proceeds will benefit Campaigns Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and human rights organization Reprieve. The show will feature 200 artists, including many who live in war-torn countries.
Among them are Yemeni artists Saba Jallas and Ahmed Jahaf. Jallas is known for her rendering images of smoke from bombs into works of art. Jahaf, who uses simple symbolism to explain conflict, will raise discussion about arms deals the U.K. has made with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in his work for the exhibition.
Darren Cullen, a satirical artist from the U.K. who makes works like a Thomas the Tank Engine transformed into a literal tank, cited his motivation for participating in the show in an interview with Art The Arms Fair: “Dealers shouldn’t be able to get away with holding these slick, lobster-and-champagne fuelled expos about their latest murder gadgets without anyone trying to stop them.”
Jill Gibbon, who is known for sketching scenes at weapons fairs while in disguise as an arms trader, as well as the anonymous feminist collective the Guerrilla Girls, will also have works in the 2019 exhibition.
This year’s iteration comes at a time when the relationship between the art world and the military industrial complex is under heightened scrutiny. In July, Warren Kanders, a trustee at the Whitney Museum in New York, was pressured to resign from his post for his involvement with Safariland, a weapons manufacturer that has produced tear gas used at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Rhianna Louise, an organizer of the exhibition, positioned it as a challenge to the arms fair across town. She told The Art Newspaper:
The DSEI arms fair brings war and conflict to London. We will challenge it with something powerful, provocative and beautiful.