Monday, 6 August 2012

England riots one year on – Hackney’s youths reflect on freedom and safety

Freedom/Lydia Noura, 16

To mark the anniversary of the devastating riots, which spread across the country last summer, Art Against Knives is hosting an exhibit exploring notions of freedom and safety in London’s Hackney’s diverse community.

Through film, audio, photography, painting and writing, the exhibition showcases the community’s response to the riots, police’s stop-and-search and freedom. The work is the result of collaborations between established photographers and young people from the borough.

The exhibition, which opens on Thursday 9 August at the Art Against Knives Gallery in Shoreditch and runs until the end of the month, kick-starts ‘STOP AND TALK’, a nationwide campaign that calls for better and fairer relationships between the police and young people.

The exhibit’s opening night also features a talk on journalism and the riots with award-winning Guardian journalist Paul Lewis, as well as a preview of Pagan, a short film about Kes, a 18-year-old from Hackney caught between the police and rival gangs. The film opens to the public on 31st August at Dalston Eastern Curve/V22.

For many young people, the borough is a haven of arts, culture and fashion, but for Kes and thousands who grew up here, most of the area is off-limits.  Large parts of Hackney have been claimed by one gang or another, and though most people have no idea where the borders lie, for Kes these invisible lines dictate where he goes and what he does in the place he calls home.

Instead of being able to turn to the police, young black people like Kes are 30 times more likely to be stopped-and-searched than white people, so the presence of officers on the streets only makes them feel less safe.

Stop and Search/Ondre Roach, 18

Hackney has been simmering with discontent as young people find themselves on the wrong side of the police and increasing social inequality. Last year's riots saw the borough reach boiling point.

The 'STOP AND TALK’ campaign is asking the police to try to better understand young people, connect with them and protect them rather than automatically see them as suspects.

Art Against Knives is a youth-led charity, which works to reduce the causes of knife crime through art initiatives and providing an alternative to violent gang culture.

The charity was born from the tragic and unprovoked stabbing of Oliver Hemsley, a 21-year-old student from Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design. The attack, which has left Oliver in a wheelchair, took place in Shoreditch, East London in August 2008. Art Against Knives decided to create something positive from this terrible experience.

Art Against Knives Gallery, Unit 55, Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, London E1 6GJ

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