History, as somebody wise once said, is just one damned thing after another. But is it really? Who decides what's 'history'?
Traditionally, the answer is 'the winners'. But in this exhibition we set 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 could also to be found in the British Museum's collection. You just needed to know where to look...
We realised that uncovering a treasure trove of dissenting objects could be tricky. Luckily, we found someone who could help. We 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 hand-picked a range of intriguing objects that explored the idea of dissent, subversion and satire (but don’t worry, we made him wear gloves).
A wide variety of objects were 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. The exhibition saw what tales these objects told – sometimes deadly serious, often humorous, always with conviction – unlocking the messages and symbols these people used, and getting closer to understanding them. The British Museum didn't escape ridicule either – the joke was on us on more than one occasion.
This history in 100(ish) objects showed 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 suggested that maybe we're programmed to dissent – it's just part of who we are. Ultimately, the exhibition showed that questioning authority, registering protest and generally objecting are an integral part of what makes us human.
We believe that by celebrating the past, we all have the opportunity to define the future. No one brings the past to life like the British Museum, whose permanent collection is one of the finest in existence, spanning two million years of human history. With the Citi exhibition I object: Ian Hislop's search for dissent, the Museum and Ian Hislop took the opportunity to use this great collection to demonstrate how personal expression has the power to make change and drive progress. There have been, and continue to be, times and places where freedom of expression is not afforded to all. Yet throughout history, people have been resourceful in expressing dissent and opposition to authority, whether through a medium such as satire or outright subversion. Their often brave efforts have played a powerful role in shaping society for the better.
As a global bank our mission is to serve as a trusted partner to our clients by responsibly providing financial services that enable growth and economic progress. This mission extends to the 98 countries that we go to work in and the 160 we serve. We are incredibly proud to partner with the British Museum in supporting it in its role as one of the most important global guardians of human history. We value the fact that our support enables the Museum to continue with its ground-breaking exhibitions and renowned education programmes.