We are the Leaders: curators notes

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As an artist, as a citizen, how do you respond to the terrible murders committed in our community?

Do you move house? Do you shout angrily on Twitter? Do you cross the street if you see a group of teenage boys waiting at a bus-stop?

In our neck of the woods the answer is none of the above. Instead, we have created, listened and got involved. This exhibition represents the best of our community responding to the absolute worst of events. It has only happened because artists from all over Waltham Forest, and further afield, have painted, drawn, printed and made. Many of the art-works you see here have been produced in the last month. A small army of citizen artists drawing their own literal, and metaphorical lines, saying: ‘No more.’

At the busiest time of the academic year these citizen artists have been joined by their comrades in art – our citizen educators. As well as dealing with the stresses and strains of SATs and GCSE exams teachers from Waltham Forest have organised selections of their students work, framed it, written about it, and then transported it to Gnome House after long days teaching. Much of the wonderful work in this exhibition has been created by our young people. It protests poverty, violence and discrimination. It offers an alternative, more accurate image of young people. Not the latest victims or perpetrators of violence on the front page of the newspaper but vibrant and creative young people full of potential.

And it is the young people who are the stars of the show. They can’t move house. They are that group of teenagers at the bus-stop. This violence or the threat of violence affects them directly. We (and by ‘we’ I mean adults) must listen to them. Adults are oh-so-very-good at explaining the way the world works. Now we must be active partners in changing it and combine our life experiences with young people’s idealism, dreams and alternative vision for the future.

Of all the young people exhibiting here, twenty year old Adler Garfield gets the biggest chunk of wall space. His iconoclastic portraits are of the student protesters from Parkland, Florida, are potent symbols of young people’s outrage at the continued gun violence in the USA. In the weeks after the terrible massacre of 17 people at their High School these student protesters organised the ‘March for our Lives’ rally in Washington D.C. attended by an estimated 800,000 people. Many millions more watched their speeches on television or online. The title for this exhibition was inspired by a banner carried to this event by a young woman. (See photo below.)

We initially got in touch with Alder after he posted his photographs on Twitter. It was only some time afterwards when Adler sent through his accompanying text did we realise how the tragic events at his former High School had directly affected him and his family.

Our first response at Gnome House to the student led protests in the USA was this: if these young people can organise an event in six weeks for almost a million people, then we can organise an exhibition in six weeks in this arts centre. And then this exhibition took on an added urgency as our community experienced young people being murdered on our own streets.

So is this the ‘new normal?’ Young people being killed in our own neighbourhood? Young people living in fear?

Well, in the words of Emma Gonzalez, pictured in this exhibition, we call ‘BS’ on that. It’s time to call BS on the violence, to call BS on the apathy and to call BS on the marginalisation of young people. This exhibition isn’t going to change the world but it can start to change things here in our community. Because in just 6 weeks there are clearly enough people who live in the streets around this building that care enough to articulate an alternative version of the future. For ourselves, but more importantly, for the generations to come.

Gnome House, June 2018

Venue: Gnome House, 7 Blackhorse Road, London E17 6DS

Opening night: Saturday 2nd June 2018, 6-9pm

Artist and curator talk: Sunday 3rd June 2018, 2-4pm

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