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JR Schwarz

The Stories behind the Statistics: This is Me Exhibition, Saatchi Gallery

3 June 2018 Emily May

We never truly leave our parents. For many of us in our early to mid-twenties, Mum and Dad are always on the end of the phone to offer love and emotional support, proof read our CVs, and maybe even act as an occasional unpaid taxi service to interviews. But for those who have been brought up by the government care system, they are expected to leave their “corporate parents” from the age of 16-18, and in this time over 1/3 of them experience homelessness during the first 6 months. That is why Drive Forward – a registered London based charity founded by CEO Martha Wansbrough– is committed to supporting young people who have experienced London’s care system into employment through skills training, workshops, mentoring and exclusive opportunities, combatting the harsh reality of 40% care leaver unemployment and 50% of looked after children struggling with mental health disorders.

Photo: JR Schwarz

However, despite percentages highlighting the need for action, Drive Forward are also passionate about showcasing the personal stories behind the statistics, which has been the inspiration for their photographic exhibition This is Me. Previously shown at 55East and Waterloo Action Arts Centre, the exhibition has now been placed centre stage at one of London’s premiere contemporary art galleries, the Saatchi.

Tucked away in a small, intimate space on the second floor, This is Me is a collection of photographic portraits of several care leavers that Drive Forward have worked with over the years. Taken by Juno Schwarz and directed by the subjects themselves, the photographs are not only beautiful examples of human portraiture in their own right, but they also hold special resonance when viewed in accompaniment with the booklet of stories provided, explaining why each subject chose the location they were photographed in, and its relevance to their experience with the care system. Locations chosen include Richmond Park as a therapeutic last resort, Stoke Newington Police Station, and even Westminster reflecting subject Sophie’s political aspirations to help others. Sophie’s story is a key example of how, whilst detailing many traumatic past experience,This is Me is extremely hopeful and inspiring showcase of what young people, with a little love, support and belief, can achieve in the face of adversity.

Photo: JR Schwarz

It’s a shame that the Saatchi hasn’t provided audio headsets – unlike at the previous showing at 55East and in Waterloo - to enable visitors to listen to the interviews Drive Forward conducted with the featured young people. However, these interviews are available online on Drive Forward’s Soundcloud account which we strongly recommend listening to after the exhibition. It is really by listening to these first-hand accounts – we were privileged to meet exhibition participant Travon Steadman in person at the press launch - that you get a sense of how, as Martha Wansbrough describes “going through the process of self-discovery… makes young people with a background in care one of the most resilient and self-aware groups in our society. They offer huge untapped potential to the workplace and society.”

Photo: JR Schwarz

Drive Forward state that they hope visitors leave the exhibition with a new understanding and perspective on the challenges faced by care leavers, and they certainly achieve this aim. This Is Me raises awareness of an issue that many may not be familiar with, and humanises the numeric facts through its use of personal storytelling. Shevonne, who was photographed at London Bridge for the exhibition, states at the end of her story “What would I tell my younger self? Don’t be in such a rush to grow up”, and whilst many of us may not share the same difficult experiences that she earlier describes, sentiments such as this feel extremely relatable, create personal resonance, and incite deep empathy that cannot be achieved with percentages.
 
This is Me is running at The Saatchi Gallery, London in the Education Gallery until 5 June 2018. For more information about Drive Forward Foundation visit their website.
 
 
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