Medals of Dishonour

0almyassbool.jpgI went to the British Museum in London when i was a teenager, congratulated myself for this giant step towards becoming an educated person and decided i’d never set foot in that mammoth museum again. Three days ago however, i went to visit one of their temporary exhibitions Medals of Dishonour.

Medals are supposed to celebrate important figures or heroic deeds, but the stars of this exhibition are medals that condemn their subjects.

The first part of the exhibition focuses on the Museum’s collection of satirical and political medals from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The second part features medals that the British Art Medal Trust has commissioned from Jake and Dinos Chapman, William Kentridge, Grayson Perry, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Richard Hamilton, Mona Hatoum, Ellen Gallagher, Langlands and Bell, Cornelia Parker, Michael Landy, Yun-Fei Ji, Steve Bell and Felicity Powell.

The most thought-provoking is the Olympic gold-style medal that Michael Landy created to honour English hooligan Dean Rowbotham “for breaking his ASBO on more than 20 occasions”.

0aaabossosiio.jpgASBO medal, 2008 © Michael Landy

In 2006, leaflets were printed and delivered to homes in Hartlepool to make residents aware of an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (the ASBO was introduced in 1998 as a non-custudory punishment that stigmatizes individuals acting in an anti-social manner) obtained against Rowbotham who was 17-year-old at the time. Each leaflet featured the teenager’s mugshot, set out the prohibitions in his ASBO and asked people to report any breaches to the Police.


By the time the young offender received his ASBO, this mark of shame and dishonour was regarded by some young people a sort of ‘badge of honour.’

Landy’s medal reflects this trend. One side reproduces the face of Rowbothan, the other side features the offenses/glories listed on the leaflet distributed in the young offender’s community.

The brass is so shiny that you can see your own face reflected in it.

And in a cultural economy of overinflated celebrity status, the notoriety of shame acquires a market currency all its own as shame morphs into resistance, appropriated by the marginalised as a badge of honour (via.)

Medals of Dishonour runs until 27 September 2009 at the British Museum in London.