On a biennial basis, East London hosts the Defense and Security Equipment International Fair, an arms fair that provides a variety of weapons for sale. This particular fair is notoriously known for facilitating the sale of weapons to poorer countries who lack strong human rights laws. Further aiding in these countries' unchecked battles with illegal weapons and consequently brutal acts of war and torture.
Obviously a controversial event, DSEI is protested every year, sparking emotional activism and international opinion. However, this year offered a different tool for protest besides from sign boards and shouts. A pop up arts exhibition, entitled Art the Arms Fair, was organized down the street from the conference center in which the arms fair is being held.
Organized by artist Amy Corcoran the arts exhibition featured 145 works related to the immediate response to DSEI. A mixture of media including painting, sculpture, and prints are hung in a generic, vacant office building and are centered on the artists' pacifist revolt and promotion of the United Kingdom's seemingly hypocritical stance on arms. As a self proclaiming place of peace and human rights, the UK's holding of this fair poses a obviously interesting issue. Art the Arms Fair aims to bring public awareness to the government complicity of the UK in this ongoing international fight.
The artists participating range from emerging to career, but none is as prominent as Banksy. His piece, Civilian Drone Strke, a simplistic drawing invoking that of a child's is hung in a homey space. The Banksy sits above a leather couch, personifying the terror of being attacked at one's own home.
Art the Arms Fair not only supplies a space for protestors to visit, but their pacifist stance also incorporates activism outside of the gallery space. Along with major protests, performance pieces and art activities were happening outside of the conference center that provided a different kind of protest experience. Art the Arms Fair also hosted several nightly events such as poetry readings, spoken word, and performance.
Several critical issues were presented through the artwork including the bombing of Yemen by British-made war planes juxtaposed by the fact that the UK is a major aid donor to Yemen. These controversial comparisons represent a dire conversation. In a further effort to provide support, an auction of work took place with all proceeds going to non-profit organizations such as (CAAT) Campaign Against Arms Trade and NGO Reprieve, which battles human rights abuses and drone strikes. In its inaugural year, Art the Arms Fair presented a variety of art and activities that not only provided effective and important protest material, but created a powerful showcase that acted as something larger than itself.