07 Oct 2011

How Does Design Reflect Social Unrest? I am London is a collective of five young artists whose art responds to their own experiences of multifaceted London. This exhibit, comprising almost all new work commissioned by THECUBE to coincide with London Design Week, flows from a series of discussions about the recent social unrest in London and the lives these young people lead on a daily basis, the basis for their very unique perspective on London.

The collective’s members – aged 17-26 and spanning five London boroughs – have varying levels of formal art training and include a mix of recent arrivals and Londoners born and bred. Curated and convened by Gabrielle Cooper, this is the first time they are sharing their work with an audience. The exhibit’s photographs and illustrations explore the influence London’s economy has on their daily lives and creative output. The coming together of this collective for this exhibit builds a creative soapbox to broadcast little-heard stories.

The recent riots not only shook the economy and Britain’s perception of its inner cities, but tarnished the reputation of a generation. In light of this negative impression, magnifying the voices of young Londoners becomes only more relevant and necessary. When the artist’s first came together to discuss what this exhibit would be, the meeting’s tone was akin to a support group. Despite the artist’s differences, the exhibit planning sessions all became electrifying brainstorming sessions. They discovered common themes in their experiences of the grittier sides to London, all unlikely to be included in more mainstream arts showcases like the London Design Festival.

Breaking with traditional art shows, this exhibit seeks to show the artist’s experiences of London’s non-mainstream economy and marginalised societies. The artist’s experience of the grittier sides of London includes friends killed in the street, the postcode wars and their own need to act out in antisocial ways against the government and the lifestyle they feel they’ve been condemned to. The emphasis is on each artist’s lived experience – rather than an attempt to empathise with these issues as an outsider. As such, I am London offers a new way to understand socio-economic disparity.

These five artists – Myrto, Jerome, Darryl, Candy and Josephine – all capture unique and very personal aspects of living in London. Myrto’s illustrations explore the city in metaphors. She compares London to herself and her biological structure, and imagines her skeletal frame as the concrete foundation under the city’s buildings, the streets as a map of veins around her body, and cells representing groups of people hijacking attributes and copy catting each other. Jerome, the youngest of the group, attempts to capture the shapes of London. His photographs observe the way light and colours intermix to add body and texture to the city. He captures London’s vibrancy, focusing on graffiti – officially illegal and considered antisocial – and portrays it as beautiful and expressive of London and the ever changing layers that it encourages. Darryl uses a more abstract approach to his work. Using the thick dark lines of a marker pen he creates a rhythmic motion of lines that represent his emotions both as he struggles with his friends becoming victims of knife crime and he listens to music in order to relieve this burden and inspire his pen. Candy, moved to the UK from Brussels six years ago, tells a different story of London through her photographs. They document the transition from tourist to confident local now accustomed to the city. Her images still offer a newcomer’s perspective on London, and show a warmth to the city’s street signs, passers-by and locals. Josephine, who moved to London many years ago, feels an attachment to the people she has met and wanted to demonstrate her desire to join their London voices.  She has created beautiful photographs focusing on the residents of a south London estate that has been under threat of demolition for ten years.  Her images sympathise with the residents and show them in the homes they have lived in for many years, and want to continue living in.

Together, the collective represents a cocktail of ideologies created and formed by London’s socio-economic climate. The exhibit highlights how little these perspectives on London are recognised by both mainstream society and the art world, while the art invites the viewer to respond to the truths of young London’s daily lives.