Why doesn’t school teach you about the important things? Why is it that we finish years of education without knowing how the world works? Why isn’t capitalism on the national curriculum?
The Finnish artist Riiko Sakkinen has tried to answer these questions with a new exhibition, The ABC of Capitalism at the Bury Art Museum and Sculpture Centre.
The result is serious and good fun. His idea is to create a classroom—tables, chairs, teaching materials, everything needed for a hands-on session.
It even starts with A4-sized copies of Margaret Thatcher to be coloured in and labelled.
The space is bright, friendly, and well-lit, just as a primary school classroom might be.
There’s a giant Scrooge McDuck on one wall and Pinocchio with a placard saying, “Capitalism is the best of all possible worlds” on another.
The blackboard raises questions about capitalism’s relation to democracy, freedom and happiness, listing 37 different kinds of capitalism, from crony capitalism to state capitalism.
It’s a pity that the wall map of the world with “204 capitalist countries” written on it has Cuba and North Korea labelled “Not capitalist”. Clearly a follow-on lesson needs to correct this.
Meanwhile everything is ready for the lesson to start.
This is what happened when the show opened with a group of ten to 14 year olds whose work is now proudly displayed.
The exhibition gets sharper in a second space, aimed perhaps at sixth formers or adults.
It is filled with “Heroes of Capitalism”, giant portraits of plutocrats, politicians and free market ideologues, each with a short quote.
It’s the only part of the exhibition where the artist’s left sympathies become clear.
So alongside Adam Smith, Thatcher, and Steve Jobs, US banker Warren Buffett tells us, “There’s class warfare, but it’s my class, the rich class that’s making war and we’re winning.”
John D Rockefeller has a different view, “God gave me my money.”
Meanwhile former Chilean dictator Pinochet thinks, “The rich people are those who create wealth, and you have to treat them well so they will continue to give wealth.”
The exhibition is best experienced with both halves of the exhibition brought to life as it was in the opening session.
I recommend coming in numbers with a wide age range for a fun discussion of a serious question.