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Defaced! At the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

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This potent exhibition is so much more than it seems. It is called Defaced! It could so easily have been called Protest! or Resistance!

This is over 250 years of noble insurrection, from the eighteenth century until now. There is work by eighteenth century cartoonists, Irish rebels, suffragettes, satirists, a Holocaust survivor, and Banksy.

This magnificent, free-entry event starts demurely with a display of defaced coins but becomes almost literally explosive.

An inspiring feature is a blown-up van – filled with fake banknotes sold to raise £1.2million to pay off a community’s payday loans.

Defaced! Is at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge until January 8. Admission free

It is an inspired idea to engrave slogans on coins, of course, because they get passed around.

There are coins decrying various British monarchs – including Victoria – and a coin from the time of the French Revolution has engraved on it in English: “What a GINDRINKING Degenerate RACE Protected by GENS D’ARMES.”

It wasn’t only Wellington who was afraid of “heads rolling down Piccadilly.”

The walls of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge are lined with grey boards covered with the graffiti of rebellion.

Defaced! Is at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge until January 8. Admission free

Against them are mounted the cries of resistance. A cartoon drawn after the Peterloo Massacre in 1819 is called ironically Manchester Heroes. A child cries up to a soldier on horseback: “Pray don’t kill mammy. She only came to see Mr Hunt.” Politician Henry Hunt being the orator of the day.

In a display relating to the suffragettes, we see a bravery medal, like a war medal on a ribbon, awarded to hunger striker Lady Constance Lytton.

Defaced! Is at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge until January 8. Admission free

She presented herself on marches as a poor seamstress from London in order to get arrested. The police had previously refused to arrest a titled lady. She was force fed and never recovered from her treatment in prison.

A display on the Holocaust is called A Deadman on Holiday. This is dedicated to a Slovak Jew called Adolf Burger.

After printing false baptismal certificates to save Jews from persecution, he was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz. There he was set to forge bank notes to affect the British economy.

He and his fellow forgers did not expect to outlive their usefulness to their captors. He called himself a dead man on holiday, but he survived and lived until 90.

Defaced! Is at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge until January 8. Admission free

There are bank notes with the official faces replaced to show, among others, Harry and Megan, Donald Trump, and David Bowie.

And four by an artist called Wefail showing Theresa May, Jacob Rees Mogg, Margaret Thatcher and Boris Johnson.

He calls them the four horsemen of the apocalypse. May is saying: “What’s yours is ours”, Rees Mogg: “Nanny and I will be fine”, Johnson: “We own you” and Thatcher: “Eat the poor.”

An English five-pound note commemorates the rescue of a right-wing demonstrator in 2020 from his fellow right-wingers.

He was saved by a black man, Patrick Hutchinson, who had gone along to a counter Black Lives Matter event to try to stop any black teenagers from getting caught up in the violence.

The note shows a press photograph of Hutchinson carrying the shocked middle-aged man to safety over his shoulder.

Defaced! Is at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge until January 8. Admission free

Most striking of all – in the whole exhibition is a huge model suspended from the ceiling of the pieces of a van blown up in London.

In March 2018, in the premises of a former Co-Operative bank in Walthamstow, a group opened Hoe Street Central Bank HSCB, they started printing money and selling it as tokens to raise £1.2million, which they used to pay off local payday and catalogue loans.

They called the project Big Bang 2 – remembering the Big Bang of the Stock Exchange in 1986 and decided to blow up a golden transit van in Canary Wharf – London’s financial centre – with a water bomb.

It was done with the consent of the police, the explosion cascading hundreds of fake bank notes into the air. People who had bought the notes received invitations to the event.

Most moving of all in this imaginatively curated and clearly explained exhibition of humans speaking out against justice is a child’s toy.

Banksy has created a wooden counting toy made up of a lorry and a group of refugees waiting to get on it.

They are wearing the clothes of their occupations. There is a chef, a construction worker, a surgeon, a doctor, a woman holding a notepad and pen, a man in overalls.

A mother hands a tiny baby carefully wrapped up in a shawl to the man standing on the lorry.

The baby is smiling.

Nearby is Banksy’s welcome mat – a doormat with the word welcome made out of twisted fragments of a dirty orange lifejacket.

The mud ingrained into the fabric tells a story of desperation and hardship more eloquently than I could possibly do here.

Defaced! Is at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge until January 8. Admission free

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