Jill Gibbon is an artist, researcher, and senior lecturer in Illustration at Leeds Beckett University. For over ten years she has been researching the international arms trade by drawing undercover in the world’s largest arms fairs – DSEI in London, Eurosatory in Paris, and IDEX in Abu Dhabi.

The Etiquette of the Arms Trade

“Arms fairs are highly secretive, open only to the defence industry. I get in by dressing up as a security consultant with a suit, heels, fake pearls and a sham company, my cover a metaphor for the masquerade of respectability in the industry. Once inside, I draw the dress, gestures and rituals that normalize arms dealing. The drawings show agency hostesses displaying missiles like desirable products, wine served alongside tanks, suited arms traders shaking hands and trying out guns, a string quartet on the back of a military truck, as well as cracks in the polite veneer – lechery, despair, drunkenness.

My drawing method combines expressive and observational approaches, challenging the implicit positivism of much reportage. I parody classical and fashion drawing methods to evoke the use of polite culture and marketing to validate weapons sales. I exhibit the sketchbooks and notebooks as drawn on location, the smudges, misdrawn lines, and stitched pages conveying a trace of my tenuous intervention inside the fairs. The project has been exhibited at the Bethanien Gallery Berlin (2019), the Bradford Peace Museum (2018), Platform Arts Belfast (2017), and the Royal West Academy Bristol (2014). I have written about the project in The Etiquette of the Arms Trade (2018).”