A place for everyone
Attempting to shape a world, a new world, post-pandemic that puts into account the needs of everyone, most especially young and marginalised youth is in itself a utopia that my malnourished pessimism sniggers at the reality of. With there being no tangible evidence to suggest that the intersecting systems that power these realities have ever valued and platformed the voices of the people in question authentically, my reticence was amplified when King’s College London approached me to lead on the projects designed to do just that.
I approached the project with cautious optimism, after all this is my default as 'Mr S.M.I.L.Eing Boys Project'. On meeting the group of rambunctious kids aged between 12 and 14, a demographic which isn't alien to me and my artistic practice, what became immediately evident was that they had a lot of energy and being empowered to unleash this using cameras was something they initially felt reserved about. Majority didn't believe they, kids in a pupil referral unit would be entrusted with expensive cameras to creatively explore themes that are embedded in their own lived experiences.
As an artist whose work is steeped in human connections and collaborative co-creation, it still always surprises me how wonderfully empowering it can be when young people become the authors of their own narratives.Seeing them fashion their words, visual compositions and characterisations in front of the camera with uninhibited charisma not only brought some comedic value to the room and school, but began a process of re-imagination of self for some of them and also for some of their teachers who perhaps see them mainly in one light.
On completing 4 sessions, which weren't without their logistical and bureaucratic challenges, what was clear to see was that young people have an incredibly powerful voice and their ability to outline their state of events with such candour is one that is both inspiring and re-affirming.
To even dream of shaping a new normal that has a semblance of equity, equality and basic functionality that serves everyone, what we cannot afford to do is mute, dial down or underplay these poignant voices of young people.
I hope journeying through this creative portal of films made by them will give you an insight into what realities and imaginations we all need to be considering while making policies, decisions and considerations that will inevitably impact their presence and their futures.
Kay Rufai is a Photographer, Poet, Filmmaker, Author, Mental Health researcher and founder of the internationally acclaimed S.M.I.L.E-ing Boys projects. Kay is currently the first national Artist in Residence for the West Midlands police, using creative arts to build positive relationships with marginalised communities as part of Coventry City of culture. He has spent the past 3 years exploring the intersection between culture, masculinity, identity, racial emancipation, mental health and community cohesion through art, photography, educational workshops and public events.