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20 Feb, 2024 20:33

British artist bins award over government’s Israel backing

Katharine Hamnett received the official distinction in 2010 for her eye-catching anti-establishment designs
British artist bins award over government’s Israel backing

British artist Katharine Hamnett publicly renounced her Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) honor as a statement against the government’s ongoing support for Israel’s war in Gaza, in a video posted to social media on Monday.

Wearing a t-shirt reading “Disgusted to Be British” in her trademark all-caps font, the designer said “I’m disgusted to be British for our role in genocide in Gaza,” brandishing her CBE and placing it in a trash can.

The honor “belongs in the dustbin along with [UK Prime Minister Rishi] Sunak and [Labour Party leader Keir] Starmer,” Hamnett explained, encouraging viewers to visit a website where they could look up their MP. “Tell them you’ll never vote for them again unless they support a permanent ceasefire in Gaza,” she said.

Viewers were also given a link where they could buy a shirt similar to the one Hamnett was wearing.

The British designer launched her eponymous label in 1979 and soon got attention for her protest t-shirts, which bore simple slogans across the chest in all-caps font. Early anti-war designs included “Choose Life,” “Education Not Missiles,” and “Worldwide Nuclear Ban Now,” along with more general slogans like “Leaders Suck.”

In the 1980s, she found wider attention, with celebrities like pop acts Madonna, WHAM!, Queen, and George Michael wearing her designs in music videos and performances. Supermodels including Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer and Nadja Auermann walked in her runway shows early in their careers.

Hamnett has continued to produce political t-shirts ever since, protesting the UK’s involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with slogans like “No War, Blair Out” and “Not in My Name,” and became an early voice for the responsible sourcing of textiles, lobbying for a tightening of industry standards as far back as 1989.

She was awarded the CBE in 2010, a development that she said “surprised” her. “It’s quite funny, I’m respectable at last,” she told the BBC at the time, calling the distinction “seductive.”

Thousands of British artists signed an open letter in October calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. While that letter was published when the Palestinian death toll hovered around 2,750, the number of dead is now more than ten times that, with Gaza’s health ministry estimating the current figure at upwards of 29,000 as of Monday. Israel declared war in Gaza following Hamas’ October 7 raid, which left 1,200 Israelis dead and another 240 taken captive. 

The UK has been second only to the US in its unflinching support for Israel throughout the war, even as allies have demanded restraint. London has also collaborated with the US military to bomb Yemen in response to Houthi attacks on Israel-affiliated ships in the Red Sea.