A year in design can be a great reflection on the society and culture of the time, and 2016 has provided many key pieces that will be significant for decades to come. As part of their Rapid Response Collecting the V&A Museum announced it has acquired a burkini, a flag designed for the first ever Refugee Olympic team, and a Vote Leave campaign leaflet amongst other timely acquisitions.
The burkini, a full-body swimming costume designed to encourage Muslim women into sports, became a symbol of national identity politics in France earlier this summer. Women were fined for, and in some cases banned from, wearing the garment in public. Joining the other recent additions, the burkini is now on display in the Museum’s regularly updated Rapid Response Collection gallery. A space which explores how current global events, political changes and pop cultural phenomena impact, or are influenced by, design, art, architecture and technology, the gallery is constantly evolving.
The Museum acquired the burkini from Australian fashion designer Aheda Zanetti. It was in 2004 that Zanetti invented the swimwear garment through her brand Ahiida; creating it as a solution for Muslim women wanting to dress more modestly when participating in sport. Comprising a long-sleeved knee-length top with close-fitting hood and trousers, the garment also features a wide graphic transfer printed across the chest area to prevent it from clinging to the body. Since its launch, over 700,000 Ahiida burkinis have been sold worldwide and it has been mass produced by a large number of retailers in Britain and internationally.
Hitting the headlines around the world the birkini ignited a social media debate in August thanks to the Mayor of Cannes introducing a ban on the garment. Citing the grounds that is contravened the strict secularism enshrined in French law to keep religion out of public life, a move which was initially supported by the French Government. The French Council of State, the highest administrative court, overturned the ban on the 26 August 2016.
The non-for-profit organisation Refugee Nation was set up to support the first ever refugee team to compete in the Olympic Games. They commissioned the artist and Syrian refugee, Yara Said, to design its team flag, another important design addition from 2016 that is now in the V&A’s collection. Yara designed the flag to reflect the lifejackets worn by many feeling conflict around the world, including herself; ‘For me, the lifejackets are a symbol of solidarity for all those who crossed the sea in search of a new country. I myself wore one, which is why I so identify with these colours.’
While the international Olympic Committee did not allow the team to fly the flag in official processions, numerous spectators and fellow athletes displayed it in acts of unity during the 2016 Rio Games, helping to draw global attention to the current refugee crisis.
‘Design is a mirror to society. The objects that the V&A collects through its Rapid Response Collecting programme are evidence of social, political, technological and economic change and therefore mean more than their material value. These objects have become newsworthy because they advance what design can do, or because they reveal truths about how we live today and how we might live tomorrow. Rapid Response is a permanent legacy of objects to help future visitors and researchers make sense of the world we live in today.’ Corinna Gardener, Acting Keeper of the V&A’s Design, Architecture and Digital Department.
The V&A’s other recently acquired objects on display include Cyclist Bradley Wiggins’ 3D printed Pinarello titanium handlebar that helped him to break the Hour Record by more than 1.5km on 7 June 2015, and a tile made for the exterior of ‘A House for Essex’ – the holiday home designed by artist Grayson Perry, in collaboration with FAT Architecture also features. Also on display for the first time is one of the 2.3 million ‘Help your local hospital…’ leaflets distributed by the Vote leave campaign ahead of the UK’s European Union referendum. Featuring a blue logo similar to that trademarked by the NHS, the leaflet was part of parliamentary inquiry examining the absence of fact in the cases made for and against leaving the EU.
The Rapid Response Collecting of important modern designs is a free display located in the V&A’s Gallery 74a and is curated by Corinna Gardener, Acting Keeper of the V&A’s Design, Architecture and Digital Department.