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The art of protest

27 June 2019

Image of Abraham Moss Community School environmental project @ People's History Museum
Image of Abraham Moss Community School environmental project poster by Manal @ People's History Museum

This year at PHM we are looking at creative ways to protest, so we asked Polly Palmerini a Graduate Teaching Assistant on BA (Hons) Photography course at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) to blog about her recent project, Make a Manifesto for a Better Future, with students from Abraham Moss Community School, who were inspired to protest and create change through the power of visual communication.

The art of protest

Make a Manifesto for a Better Future is a project based on everyday activism and collective action with Abraham Moss Community School in North Manchester, MMU and People’s History Museum (PHM).  The aim of this Cultural Digital Designers in Residence (CDDIR) project was to explore the pupils’ findings and ideas about the environment through image and text, by making a manifesto of ideas for a better future. Through the process of digital photography, poster design, and zine making, the pupils learnt how to use the power of visual communication to interact with an issue.

At the beginning of the project I accompanied fifteen Year eight pupils and their art teacher Liz Jackson from Abraham Moss Community School on a visit to PHM, the national museum of democracy, to learn about and be inspired by the ideas worth fighting for, ideas such as equality, social justice, co-operation and a fair world for all. an insight on social issues and historical moments in Britain and Manchester.  We took part in a creative writing workshop, focusing on how to express ideas and the use of words to present a narrative.  This allowed the students to actively engage in the power of communication.

Our main focus was on the range of different protest campaign; how banners and posters and imagery was used to present issues and have a say. We also spoke about zines as a tool for the dissemination of ideas, being a quick and cheap way to present ideas and images.

Back at school the students staff members on the issues of plastic waste, recycling and climate change.  They looked into human damage around their school.  We visited the school canteen and playground areas; these recreational areas were thought to be the most likely to find people and objects to investigate.  The students utilised iPads loaded with questions they planned to ask and the issues they wanted their peers to think about.  They videoed and documented the responses and photographed how the pupils treated their spaces.  Thought our walk around the school they discovered why people mistreated their surroundings.

We continued the project by making their own statement posters with image and text highlighting everyday modern activism in a digital society. The students learnt the basics of how to manipulate an image (e.g. crop, colour correcting, adding filters etc.) using Photoshop.  We asked them to think about how a photographer can change images. They combined text with the images they had taken during the previous session and added their thoughts and tips to improve or what they cared about. They used their poster to present the do’s and don’ts and facts on the issues.

Abraham Moss High School CDDIR project poster by Wajeehs, Arbris and Sahifa

Abraham Moss High School CDDIR project poster by Wajeehs, Arbris and Sahifa

The next activity involved Zine making.  Using a combination of newspapers, different papers, photos they took and text from the interviews to create a zine which illustrates things to improve how we treat the environment and their school.

Our project ended with a visit to the School of Art at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). It was a great chance to show the students the multifaceted world of an art and design world.  It was a day in which we explored the art school and all the variety of disciplines as an art student you can do.  The main focus was to give the students insight on what a creative career can be and introduce them to recent photography graduate, Nathan Cutler who spoke about his experiences as a photographer and past student.  We also met undergraduate, Molly Darlington who is working as professional sports photographer alongside her studies.  It was a chance for students to ask questions about their own creative career path.  We also shared with them the work we had done.

Both the tour at MMU and meeting with these young professionals who have developed careers in the arts have showed them tangible career paths within the digital design and art sectors. Showing them that a career in the art world is possible and achievable. Also giving the teachers information on different paths a creative can take and that there isn’t just one way!

And in the words of Liz Jackson, Art Teacher, Abraham Moss Community School:

‘This year’s CDDIR project focused on the idea of collective protest.  We chose to create artwork that would raise the awareness of environment protection and improvement, focusing specifically on ways we can improve our school environment.  These sophisticated outcomes will now be distributed around school and presented as posters in the dining areas to help inspire pupils to consider how the can make a positive impact on their school environment.  The project was enjoyed by all the pupils who were involved. Their understanding of the theme and their commitment to choosing Art as a GCSE subject next year, has increased as a result of the project.  I look forward to developing the protests further within school, working alongside the PVLP (Pupil Voice group) and the pupils involved in the project to promote environmental concerns in school.’

The project has been a great success.  The pupils have learnt new skills combining photography, Photoshop, drawing and text which they can apply to their work, or use in the future and they are more aware on how to present their ideas and protest on current issues.’

Polly Palmerini a Graduate Teaching Assistant on BA (Hons) Photography course at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU).

Guest blogs are not curated by PHM but feature voices on topics relevant to the museum’s collection.  Guest blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of PHM.

PHM’s year long programme for 2019 explores the past, present and future of protest, marking 200 years since the Peterloo Massacre; a major event in Manchester’s history, and a defining moment for Britain’s democracy.

At PHM we offer an engaging Learning Programme, providing opportunities for early years, schools, colleges, universities, adult and community groups, and families to learn about, be inspired by and get involved in ideas worth fighting for; ideas such as equality, social justice, co-operation, and a fair world for all.

Visit the Learn section of the museum’s website for all the information you need to arrange a visit, or  please contact the Learning Team on,uk or call 0161 838 9190.


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