Art the Arms Fair: highlighting London’s global arms fair that likes to stay out of the limelight

Art the Arms Fair: highlighting London’s global arms fair that likes to stay out of the limelight
Banksy, 'Civilian Drone', 2017. Courtesy Flickr Commons.
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Next month, the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) will descend on London. In its 20th year, the DSEI is one of the world’s largest arms expos that touts itself as a ‘leading event that connects governments, national armed forces, industry thought leaders and the global defence & security supply chain on an unrivalled scale.’ Also prepping for their upcoming fair, though, is the Art the Arms Fair, an art fair in protest of the DSEI, that will be run from September 3rd through the 13th just south of the Thames in Peckham.

Art the Arms Fair began in 2017 as a way for artists to respond to the biannual DSEI – which flies relatively under the radar to those not involved in the international arms trade – and campaign for peace. Including the works of poets, performers, painters, and more, the art fair won the 2018 Nesta New Radicals award. During its inaugural fair, the art fair auctioned off artworks to raise money for the Campaign Against The Arms Trade and other organizations that ‘challenge the arms trade.’ That year, the Art the Arms Fair featured Civilian Drone, a 2017 work by Banksy donated to the fair, which sold for £205,000 setting an exciting and hopeful tone for the fair’s work. Since then, the fair has raised more than £100,000 for those organizations and have created more media coverage to raise awareness about the DSEI.

This year’s fair will have a number of return artists along with some new faces hoping to make an impact on the public. One artist who will be back this year is Darren Cullen, an artist from the UK who uses satire (see his rendition of Thomas the Tank Engine reimagined as an army-grade helicopter in Thomas the Tank and Friends) as a medium to convey his purpose. In an interview, he said he joined Art the Arms Fair because ‘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, an artist whose works include sketches made at a weapons fair when she has attended such arms fairs, will join the 2019 roster, too. Of the 200 artists planning to participate in this year’s show, many of them are from war-torn countries, too, so their experience is first-hand, including Yemeni artists Saba Jallas and Ahmed Jahaf.

The fair’s intent is to drive home the fact that London is not as removed from the global arms trade as one might think. It gives artists a place to respond creatively to that reality and it offers a different narrative to that which is told at the DSEI. ‘The DSEI arms fair brings war and conflict to London,’ Rhianna Louise, one of the art fair’s organizers, told The Art Newspaper. ‘We will challenge it with something powerful, provocative and beautiful.’