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Occupy London Placards Enter Museum of London Collection

UBS Banner
An 8-foot banner that hung on an empty UBS AG building occupied by London protesters in a “public repossession” last November and renamed the Bank of Ideas. After the protesters' eviction in late January, the banner entered the collections of the Museum of London. Source: Museum of London via Bloomberg

April 24 (Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister David Cameron smiles and raises his middle finger on a protest placard that just entered the Museum of London’s collections.

The wooden panel, spray-painted in the style of the street artist Banksy, portrays the U.K. head of government with a red percentage sign on his tie, suggesting that he represents the wealthiest 1 percent of the planet’s population.

The placard was put on public display by Occupy London demonstrators, who, inspired by New York’s Occupy Wall Street rally, camped outside St. Paul’s Cathedral from October 2011 until their police-led eviction on Feb. 28. The Museum of London is compiling select items from the protest.

“The museum tries to document all major events in London history,” says Jim Gledhill, curator of social and working history at the museum, which is near St. Paul’s. “This was such a major event, and it was going on 10 minutes down the road.”

“The City of London as a financial institution also features in our collections: We’re an impartial observer,” says Gledhill.

The museum, which reopened in 2010 after a 20.5 million pound ($32.9 million) revamp, plots London life from 1666 to the present in its new galleries. The collections as a whole date back to prehistoric times. Among the items on display is a pinstriped Armani woman’s suit, donated by a Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc banker, as well as the trophy she won for clinching a deal.

Sick Bags

Last year, the museum acquired paper plates, china plates and souvenir sick bags commemorating the wedding of Prince William. In the 1980s, badges and photographs from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament demonstrations entered its collections.

Now, its storerooms house an 8-foot (2.4 meter) banner that hung on an empty UBS AG building that protesters occupied in a “public repossession” last November and renamed the Bank of Ideas. When the occupiers were evicted in late January, UBS said, “We are pleased that this matter has now been resolved.”

The banner bears the words “You Owe Us” and shows the UBS logo flanked by a group of pensioners.

“The UBS banner was made the night before the opening of the Bank of Ideas by three people on the floor of a squat which used to be an old pub,” says Hilary Young, digital curator at the Museum of London, who interviewed its three makers.

“It’s really long and really tall, so they unfurled it on the floor, painted it on the floor, and hung it up to dry before they folded it and took it to the Bank of Ideas,” Young says.

Clenched Fist

Another addition to the collections is a giant board illustrated with a clenched fist and inscribed with the words: “Stand Strong Occupy On.” It hung from a tree at St. Paul’s, and after the eviction, the Corporation of London -- the City’s local government -- offered it to the museum.

Also now in the archives is the first issue of “The Occupied Times,” a Xeroxed, black-and-white leaflet-style newspaper with the front-page headline “Here to Stay.” It pictures a young man yelling into the mouthpiece of a megaphone held up by a young woman beside him.

The movement’s links to the three-month-long anti-austerity demonstration in central Madrid is illustrated by a donation from a Spanish protester at St. Paul’s: a red wool cap, one of many knitted by Latin American pensioners who were keen to contribute and protect the London militants from the cold.

Gledhill says the museum prefers handmade, personalized items to “mass-produced badges, leaflets and placards that everybody had,” and which union- or party-led protests generated in the past.

Occupier Mask

One exception is a mass-produced Guy Fawkes mask, an anti-establishment emblem borrowed from the “V for Vendetta” comic-book series and widely used in Occupy movements worldwide.

Ephemeral items, such as signs made with water-soluble marker, get turned down. “If it’s auto-destructive and will not last more than five years, there’s no point in taking it,” says Gledhill.

It’s too soon to say what the museum will do with the material, he says.

For now, the items are being photographed and displayed online along with the rest of the collection. Sometime in the future, a Web browser will come across the image of a British prime minister making an unusual gesture.

Museum of London, 150 London Wall, London EC2Y 5HN. Information:

(Farah Nayeri writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

Today’s Muse highlights include: Manuela Hoelterhoff interviews Pablo Heras-Casado; Mark Beech on new rock CDs; Jeremy Gerard on Broadway.

To contact the writer on the story: Farah Nayeri, in London, at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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