“We are all human” curated by Benjamin Zephaniah
15 September – 13 November 2016 Spirit Level at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall
At the beginning of this month I was just passing through Southbank when I happened across an exhibition that was curated by internationally acclaimed writer, dub poet and musician Benjamin Zephaniah.
My dad was born and bred in Handsworth, which is where I was also born. Zephaniah has always been a hero of his and as I’ve got older he has become one of mine. Handsworth back when my Dad grew up had a predominant and strong Jamaican influence and this music and poetry has heavily influenced my life. In fact Zephaniah called it the Jamaican capital of Europe. Love that. I’m about that.
This personal connection I have with Zephaniah’s work and influences is not necessary to be touched by the “We are all human” exhibition. It is however, a testament to his pioneering ways to bring music, poetry and art to everyone influenced by people and culture from the most unlikely of places.
The exhibition is the Koestler Trusts annual UK showcase of arts created by prisoners, offenders on community sentences, secure psychiatric patients and immigration detainees.
It is in its ninth year and I’ll be honest I’d never heard of it before. The Koestler Trust, the UK’s best known prison arts charity and is part of an ongoing partnership between the Koestler Trust and Southbank Centre.
“I was in prison myself in the 1970’s and back then there was no way you could express yourself. I felt like a creative being but there was nothing there to do. I express myself through words, and here I am surrounded by people who express themselves in different ways – matchsticks, paper mache, painting. Every bit of artwork in the exhibition has meaning; everything is relevant to the person who’s created it. We are all human, it’s a really simple truth, even if people are going through difficult times we are all trying to survive. We are all here because of circumstance. In my younger years everyone told me I would spend my life in prison, but there was a little spark inside of me that thought – ‘no, I’m a poet.’ I want the artists to know that their work is valuable, in terms of expression and adding to the whole conversation about life.” – Benjamin Zephaniah
Zephaniah has selected a diverse range of artworks from nearly 7,000 pieces submitted to the 2016 Koestler Awards from across the UK.
As soon as you walk in you see the impressive matchstick modelling, a traditional prison craft.
As you make your way around the gallery there are a couple of benches with headphones where you can sit and listen to music created by prisoners and offenders. Some of the songs were actually so good the gun fingers came out.
Surrounding these benches is an array of paintings and sculptures, so varied, reflecting different themes such as comfort and time. The detail and skill is phenomenal and you can actually purchase the artworks. When I went at the beginning of the month there were a considerable number of pieces that have already been sold.
Zephaniah selected works that explore themes of time and the natural environment, with a particular focus on creative writing and poetry within this year’s display. The entire exhibition is thought provoking and at times intense and hard-hitting. Each piece has a story that reveals something of the artist; a lot of the pieces do not have an explanation with them, which leaves you to concoct an image or story behind the piece.
Here are some photos of my favourite pieces. I even took the time to fill in the feedback forms with my favourite piece (I filled in like 5 it was so difficult to choose). The Trust sends the comments from the feedback forms back to the artists so if you go definitely take a minute to do this!
I highly recommend you go and see this while it’s still on. It’s free, the talent is madting and the pieces are sick. You’ve got until 13th November!