An exhibition putting smiles on faces brings Hackney’s Black History Season to a close

Portraits of local Black boys smiling warmly at the camera will be displayed on billboards across the borough, as well as in an exhibition at Hackney Bridge this month, as part of a project which aims to challenge the negative portrayal of young Black boys through positive representation.

Artist’s Kay Adekunle Rufai’s London-wide S.M.I.L.E-ing Boys exhibition, part of Hackney’s extended Black History in the Making season, presents uplifting portraits of 17 students in Hackney to challenge the stereotype of this demographic and give them a bigger voice and presence in the community. 

Funded by the Wellcome Trust Paul, Hamlyn Foundation and Arts Council, the photographs were developed during a series of workshops run by Kay to help Black boys understand and explore their mental health.

The project was created as a direct response to the rise in youth affected by violence which sparked a series of reactive approaches from the government, including tougher criminalisation of youth, more stop and searches and greater police presence in parts of the UK with large ethnic populations. 

Kay has worked with over 300 Black boys from ten London boroughs, with photographs from workshops used in exhibitions across London at City Hall, Brixton Village, Nine Elms, South Bank Oxo Gallery, and now Hackney. 

The S.M.I.L.E-ing Boys project has provided me with the opportunity to realise a vision of creating a humanised version of Black boys while advocating for a more care-centred approach to support their mental wellbeing. It is the project I needed when I was 13 and never had, and is bringing me healing and joy simultaneously.

Artist Kay Adekunle Rufai
The session was eye opening for me as it helped me learn more about myself and made me feel confident to feel, understand and share my emotions without suppressing them or feeling ashamed of them anymore. It gave me so much confidence to speak up in public and to figure out how to express my true self.

Damien, who participated in The S.M.I.L.E-ing Boys project
Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Education, Young People and Children's Social Care
It is vital we change the often negative public perception of young Black people in our borough and beyond. I am pleased we have an opportunity to display these portraits across Hackney and help show local young Black boys, to counteract the negative stereotypes that are sometimes formed. 

Crucially the S.M.I.L.E-ing Boys project also helps to highlight and address the concerning lack of mental health provisions available for young Black people. It is important we continue this desperately needed conversation around mental health and wellbeing for young Black boys in Hackney, and continue to offer new ways for them to express themselves, explore a sense of identity and manage their own happiness.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Education, Young People and Children's Social Care

The S.M.I.L.E-ing Boys exhibition brings Hackney’s Black History Season calendar to a close, along with an exhibition of Hackney Carnival artworks designed by local schoolchildren and older residents. The 11 large-scale artworks, which celebrate Hackney’s rich cultural heritage, will be displayed in public spaces across the borough until February 2022.

Notes to editors

To find out more and to hear testimonies from the participants visit lovehackney.uk/smile 

Visit the S.M.I.L.E-ing Boys exhibition at Hackney Bridge, Units 1-28, ECHO BUILDING, London E15 2SJ. On until 31 January, 2022. Walk up the stairs to the mezzanine to view the exhibition. 

About the artist 

Kay Adekunle Rufai is a Photographer, Poet, Filmmaker, Mental Health Researcher, and the first national Artist In Residence for the West Midlands Police, who has spent the past 3 years exploring the public health approach to violence reduction, mental health, masculinity and community cohesion. A great deal of his work directly engages diverse communities, minority groups, incarcerated young people, gang members, refugee and displaced groups of people as well as collaboratively creating bodies of work with them. http://universoulartist.com/about-me/ 

For more information on Hackney Black History Season, follow Hackney Black History on Facebook (@HackneyBlackHistory) or Instagram (@hackney_black_history)

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