Money = Power?
Whether or not it’s illegal is a murky area that appears to have been left intentionally vague. That it’s strongly discouraged is indubitable, but the main concerns seem to be preventing the forgery of denominations to make notes appear of higher value, hijacking currency for advertising, or destroying it to the point where it is unfit for circulation.
US organisation Stamp Stampede was launched in 2012 (by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s fame) to popularise the message that money should have no influence over politics. Arguing powerfully – with a letter from their lawyer highlighting the relevant sections of the law – that printing or writing on money is in fact legal, the group sell a wide variety of stamps bearing anti-corruption slogans which they encourage supporters to buy and use on circulating currency.
The unspendable zero rupee note designed by Indian anti-corruption NGO 5th Pillar has a similar purpose, but is probably slightly more illegal in being a completely manufactured non-currency that closely resembles the 50 rupee note. Bearing the legends ‘Eliminate Corruption At All Levels’ and ‘I Promise to Neither Accept Nor Give Bribe’, the idea is that the 2.5m bits of paper issued since 2007 be given in lieu of payment to any shady official expecting a greased palm.
Slightly more abstract now (but back to printing) with this stamp commissioned by the Victoria & Albert Museum for their Disobedient Objects exhibition exploring ‘the powerful role of objects in movements for social change’. Occupy Liz by artist Ivan Cash was an interactive component of the exhibition that allowed visitors to stamp their own £5 notes with a clever data visualisation of income inequality (see also: Occupy George)
Undoubtedly the most incendiary (and illegal) example on this list, however, would be this 1989 Burmese 1 kyat note. At a time when the leader of the Burmese democratic movement Aung San Suu Kyi was being placed under house arrest and having her electoral victories ignored, a designer was working on a new banknote that was to feature her father Gen. Aung San.
The designer decided to strike a blow against Burmese generals’ violent suppression of pro-democracy protests by quietly subverting his brief. He softened the features of Gen. Aung San to make him look more like his daughter, and included a secret watermark of Aung San Suu Kyi to the left of her father. It took several months for the authorities to realise and withdraw the banknotes from circulation. History does not record the identity of the note’s designer, or the price he paid for his subtle rebellion.