Philosophy T-shirt Exhibition Philosophy T-shirt Exhibition

Twenty years after starting off, Philosphy Football exhibit an enjoyable selection of t-shirts about sports, politics and philosophy

It all started with Albert Camus. ‘All that I know most surely about morality and the obligations of men, I owe to football’, wrote the French writer and philosopher. When Hugh Tisdale and Mark Perryman decided to print a t-shirt with this quote on it as a Christmas present, they never imagined that it would be so successful. But 1994 was an opportune year for football-themed clothes. At that time, the sport was becoming a bit more fashionable, says Tisdale, among other things because Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, which had come out two years earlier, was such a big success. Soon after their unexpectedly popular first t-shirt Tisdale and Perryman found other philosophers who used football as a metaphor. ‘Because football is an international sport, it’s often used by people to symbolise things, which gave us quite a fertile place to work’, says Tisdale. Over the subsequent 20 years, they produced dozens of t-shirts, a selection of which are now on exhibit at the Rich Mix.

It started with football, but it didn’t stop there. The designs and slogans are about dissent, resistance, and solidarity, as well as music and the media. They include quotes from writers like Berthold Brecht or Lenin, philosophers like Jean Baudrillard, and footballer-philosophers like Eric Cantona. The designs are decidedly international: One t-shirt is in Polish and displays the names of the Polish air pilots who took part in the Battle of Britain in 1940 – a reminder that the fight against injustice never stops at national borders. Other t-shirts feature the Russian title of Vassily Grossman’s novel Life and Fate, or Dolores Ibárruri’s famous quote ‘It’s better to die on one’s feet than to live on one’s knees’ in Spanish and English. The designs have become steadily less word-heavy over the years. Many of the most impressive ones feature very little writing (‘Gaza’), or no words at all, like the one about World War One, which shows the black silhouette of a soldier and a red poppy.

Philosophy Football is a company that only consists of five people, but it’s been growing steadily over the past few years. ‘We think that there is room for people like us to take an unusual angle on things’, says Tisdale. ‘We observe, we research and we produce. And we’re not going to stop.’ Although Philosophy Football ally themselves with many like-minded groups, they always maintain their independence. They use their proceeds to fund political causes and things like relief convoys to Gaza or the Hope not Hate campaign, whose name they’re responsible for. ‘These are bleak times politically, so it’s important to fight’, says Tisdale. In the worlds of Brecht, printed on a bright red t-shirt: Art is not a mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.

Camus, Clough & Counter-Culture: 20 Years of Philosophy Football. Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London E1 6LA. 3-31 October, free entry.

Peter Stäuber

Peter Stäuber is a freelance journalist and translator. He writes for English and German language publications and is a member of the NUJ.

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