Their faces were on the big-screen on huge billboards across the city for all to see, and now they’re on proud display in the Tate Britain.
Only a few schools involved in the artist and filmmakers Steve McQueens ambitious, collective ‘Year 3’ portrait have revealed themselves to the public, and Manorfield Primary School in Tower Hamlets is one of them.
The exhibition explores citizenship and identity through the depiction of 76,000 children across 3,000 milestone Year 3 classes in London. Manorfield Primary School have praised the project as a “celebration of the time spent in a school class that has created a strong bond and fond memories.”
Paul Jackson, the school’s head teacher, told Eastlondonlines: “It does a huge amount for these children to see themselves represented and celebrated in these important public spaces, and around the city that they call home.”
Class photos from state primaries, independent schools, faith schools, special schools, pupil referral units and home-educated pupils have been compiled into a single large-scale installation, providing a hopeful glimpse into London’s diverse future.
The Poplar-based school told Eastlondonlines the project aims to “create a space for an enquiry into concepts such as identity, childhood, changes and memories for its students.”
McQueen, the Turner Prize-winning Goldsmiths alumnus, said: “Year three is an important time in a child’s life because it’s at that point you’re getting to understand your surroundings. It’s one of those moments where there’s a turning point and you’re getting to understand- possibly- gender, race and class.”
Before the show opened in November, the school’s Year three class photo had been displayed on huge billboards across the city, as an earlier part of the exhibit, curated by Artangel.
Excited pupils travelled to see their faces on the big screen billboards. Staff described how the children’s faces lit up, and said that some children made comments such as: “Look how different I look,” or “look how happy I am.”
Jackson told Eastlondonlines: “It created such a buzz…with parents coming up to teachers involved to show them billboards that they have bumped into around London, and some parents even making the journey to hunt them down!”
A secondary element of the project was education; Tate photographers gave workshops focused on class, race, gender and representation in photography, to the students involved in the project.
Jackson described the positive impact of these sessions for his pupils, and said: “It’s helped them appreciate the build up to their photograph being taken and the power it can have as an outdoor exhibition.”
In terms of the long-term benefits of McQueen’s project, Jackson told Eastlondonlines: “There’s a sense of confidence and community here that are requisites for fostering creativity in our pupils, and we’re very proud to have been involved.”
The Tate told Eastlondonlines that it would keep the childrens’ identities anonymous, and that it was up to the individual schools to reveal their involvement, as Manorfield Primary School recently did.
Pupils from Manorfield will visit the free exhibit in 2020 to see their photograph, and will be able to showcase it in their school when the show ends in May.