Six Pupils from the Addey and Stanhope School in Deptford spent last week at Goldsmiths, University of London, working with three internationally renowned mural painters from Northern Ireland. On Friday the young artists unveiled their impressive mural.
The six pupils are taking GCSE art and volunteered for the project organized by the Centre for Arts and Learning in the Department of Educational Studies at Goldsmiths. John Johnston, co-director of the centre, said: “The overarching theme of the project is to emphasise the importance of art in telling the story of the past while also casting new light on the future.”
The pupils received creative guidance from mural artists Danny Devenny, Mark Ervine and Marty Lyons. Together they worked through the process of understanding local history including the New Cross fire of 1981, last summers riots, the impact of police stop and search powers, and institutionalized racism. While exploring the power of art to address these issues using symbolism, they learnt how to articulate their thoughts visually and express their concerns about everyday social life through painting.
John Johnston described the week as: “full of intense and interesting conversations.” A highlight being: “A beautiful moment on Wednesday when the six pupils began to think of themselves as six young artists from South East London.
One of young artists involved, Tayla Jones, 15, said: “We’ve learnt the uses and meaning of art, art techniques, painting skills, the history of Northern Ireland and our own local history, and most importantly the power of the image to raise awareness.”
The project focused on the importance of visual art for public communication, a medium through which typically marginalized groups can have their voices heard.
Myles Owen, 14, another young artist involved in the project, said: “We’ve not forgotten what happened in 1981, and we know that how it was dealt with by the government, the police, and the media was wrong. Through art we can express these thoughts, this is the use of art.”
On Friday the mural that has not yet been given a title, was unveiled at Goldsmiths, to an audience of students from local schools and colleges. The young artists presented their work and explained its symbolism, including the catchy slogan coined by Victoria Ogun, 15, that states: “If we do the crime, we will do the time, but not because of our clothing line,” protesting the typecasting of young people committed by the police through their stop and search operations.
The Belfast based artist Mark Ervine, who worked with the six pupils, said: “I’m so proud of what my young mates here have achieved.”
The “Illuminate Project”, another long-term programme orchestrated by the Department of Educational Studies at Goldsmiths, coordinated by Dr Anna Carlie, also strives to give young people a voice, allowing them to be listened to, and be taken seriously: “A place where they can challenge the stereotypes of young people perpetrated by the media.”
Matthew Gordon, 17, a student at Corelli College, Blackheath, aattended Friday’s events. He said: “Its frustrating how young people are scapegoated by the media. The public are fed exaggerations and this is dangerous especially if young people themselves begin to live up to these negative images.”
Fellow student Jay Murphy, 17, added: “There is an interesting synthesis of students and speakers here combining politics and art, it’s been a unique experience. I think events like this today, that discuss issues affecting young people, are important for a stronger community and a better future for us all.”
Speaking at the event the Jamaican born poet and human rights lawyer David Neita said: “Exercising memories can do so much for us, they can liberate us, today has been a symbol of liberation.”
Neita gave a reading of a poem by the Jamaican poet Claude Mckay, dedicated to the memories of those who lost their lives in the New Cross fire.
An older member of the audience was seen silently mouthing the lyrics, and one man, visibly moved, wiped a tear from his eye.
Danny Devenny, another of the Belfast mural painters who worked with the young artists of the Addey and Stanhope School said: “There is power behind art. Through it we can allow the public access to the ‘full truth’ without media censorship.”
The mural will be moved from Goldsmiths and permanently housed at the Addey and Stanhope School where it will become a teaching and learning resource and continue to benefit the local community.
By Sean Lindholm