In summer 2021, the Gallery worked on a new collaborative project ‘Visible / Invisible’ in East London with The Line (London’s first dedicated public art walk) and London College of Fashion (LCF) to explore themes of identity and representation in the digital and public realms. Francesca Laws, the National Portrait Gallery's Schools Manager, writes about this exciting three-year programme, which involves creative workshops, training and paid work opportunities, aiming to tackle the inequality of opportunity within the arts in East London for local young people.
This year, we’re excited to be working with four schools from the Olympic boroughs, alongside The Line and LCF. We’ll be building on the relationships established with teachers in each school and the feedback we received from staff and participants in 2021. In 2022, students will work with the artist facilitators towards a public exhibition of their work as well as the development of a new Youth Collective and public commission. Content for 2022 workshops will revisit the Olympic legacy using the Gallery’s project Road to 2012 as a starting point, along with exploration of East London through visits to The Line, facilitated by this year’s Youth Guides.
A look back on last year’s schools workshops
The Gallery learning team, working with The Line, set up a programme of artist-led workshops in four schools in the Olympic boroughs of Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest led by photographic artists Gisela Torres and Othello de’Souza-Hartley. These participatory image-making workshops, supported by student ambassadors from London College of Fashion, set out to inspire secondary school students to consider creative careers and to build their skills and employability. The impact on the year 9 students was evident in the workshops with one teacher observing “They inspired my year 9's some of which I have never seen so animated. The curiosity and enthusiasm the session evoked in the students was priceless.”
The students were introduced to the Gallery’s Collection with a focus on photographic portraits, and used these as a starting point to develop visual language, critical thinking skills and creative ideas to plan their own portraits. They investigated how artists create portraits to tell a story about the person in the photograph and how factors such as composition, framing and lighting alter the mood and message of an image.
Students then took part in practical workshops to experiment and work collaboratively to create their own photographic portraits using simple props and backdrops. The groups worked on technical skills learning about lighting, composition, camera angles etc to progress their image making and technical ability. Teachers commented “Such a fantastic day! The students were so creative and experimental as well as collaborative… (this was a) Fantastic opportunity for students to work with practicing artists.”
The year 9 students created an array of striking and inventive portraits and had the opportunity to present and review their work as a group at the end of each session. Many of the students reflected that the workshops ignited an interest in photography which they are keen to progress. Working collaboratively was highly valued, as well as the opportunity to be creative, share ideas and make photographs in inventive ways. Students commented that the themes of identity and visibility were important to them with one student explaining that they had learnt “About identity and how to create work that represents me.” The artists leading the sessions encouraged the students to make thoughtful and bold images using simple everyday materials exploring how portraits can tell stories and convey a message. Further reflection by participants included “It was a really fun and interesting way of narrating a story through a single picture. It increased my understanding of portrait making. It made me feel independent’.
Portraits created by year 9 students from Mossbourne Victoria Park Academy, St Paul’s Way Trust School, Buxton School and Bobby Moore Academy
In addition to the workshops, students from St Paul’s Way Trust School were also able to visit The Line art walk, which runs from Queen Elizabeth Park to Greenwich and meet the project’s Youth Guides staffing the route. They explored artworks by artists including Thomas J Price, Tracey Emin and Madge Gill, all within walking distance from their school.
The inaugural Youth Guides were 16-18 year olds, living in East London, recruited in summer 2021 to staff The Line during weekends over the summer period. They undertook paid training prior to working as guides, where they engaged the public in conversation about works of art on The Line, providing information and sharing their ideas.
Youth Guides will this year be recruited from schools, colleges as well as local youth organisations. Members of the 2021 cohort will work to encourage young people to join as well as providing mentorship and support as supervisors during the programme.
With the Visible / Invisible project, we are working towards a co-commissioned artwork for the public realm. Through exploring issues of identity and representation, this project highlights how now – more than ever – we need to find new ways to see each other. You can also catch the new Youth Guides at The Line this summer.
Hear from students in a film that looks back on the project so far: