Kaputas burkini selfie

Kaputas burkini selfie

Image by Eric Baker

Daniel Nelson

One of the smallest and most interesting permanent exhibitions at any London museum has been updated.

Rapid Response Collecting at the V&A is so little known that staff on the museum’s information desk sometimes tell visitors seeking its location that they have no knowledge of it.

But it’s worth persevering.

Half the dozen or so items in the tiny show were replaced in December. So the 3D printed “Liberator” gun created by a Texas law student to “defend the civil liberties of popular access to arms” – which was downloaded over 100,000 times on the day it was first fired – remains on display.

It has been joined by a Burkini, created by Melbourne-based designer Aheda Zanettiu “to change the Islamic symbol of a veil … I wanted to make sure we blended in with the Australian lifestyle.”

Like Cody Wilson’s gun, the Burkini sparked controversy and was banned by 30 French mayors. But while Wilson’s files were seized by the United States government and he was ordered to remove them from websites, the Burkini bans were overturned by France’s highest administrative court. Over 700,000 have been sold.

Also on the dress front, Christian Louboutin’s ‘Nude shoes’ offer a fascinating footnote to history because they mark “the first time that a major fashion house had adjusted its definition of nude to include skin colours other than white” – an illuminating postscript to the decline of the European-dominated world that began to crumble along with empire:

“The [Nude shoe] collection reflects the changing global economy, targeting women of different ethnicities in parts of the world where middle-class incomes are on the rise.” Nevertheless, the displayed shoes are variations of beige, not black.

Also on show is the flag of the Refugee Nation under which a refugee team was allowed compete in the Rio Olympics. The designer, Yara Said, herself a Syrian refugee, said the colours were inspired by the life-jackets worn by many fleeing Syrians as they tried to reach Europe: “It’s 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 identify with these colours.”

From Ghana there’s a big-selling “power bank phone”, which is a light source and has a reusable battery that can be used to charge other devices. It is well suited to a country subject to occasional blackouts of 36 hours or more.

From China there’s an ugly made-in-China soft toy that enables absent parents to keep in touch with their children through the WeChat social media platform, and a brolly that exemplifies Hong Kong’s 2014 Umbrella Revolution against Beijing’s proposals for a change to the electoral system.

A mini-drone is included not because of the controversy over military use of pilotless aircraft but for showing the pitfalls of a successful crowdfunding campaign by being a design flop.

Corinna Gardner from the V&A’s Design, Architecture and Digital Department, says: “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.”

Small. Imaginative. Original. Engrossing.

*  Rapid Response Collecting is an ongoing exhibition at the Victoria &Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, SW7. Free.

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