The Strength and Vulnerability Bunker at the Southbank Centre
Every year thousands of pieces are submitted from across the UK for the Koestler awards, which aim to showcase the art of offenders, secure patients and detainees. It is the job of each year’s elected curator to cherry-pick a chosen few to display in the Spirit Level exhibition space at the Royal Festival Hall, and this year it’s 2009 Mercury Music Prize winner Speech Debelle. The rapper has chosen the themes of strength and vulnerability to take us through what is a marvellous and insightful journey into the creativity of individuals residing within our criminal justice system and other secure settings.
The most impactful aspect of the show is the almost overwhelming mix of creative mediums on display – within ten feet of the entrance you’ll have seen and heard examples of sculpture, painting, writing, film, music and fashion. While the various clips of songs and sounds from videos can overlap in a nasty discord from time to time, the eclectic feel adds a sense of gravity and encourages a much more immersive browsing experience; it just doesn’t feel right to do anything other than take in each piece fully before moving on to the next. In doing so, you get to witness the creative expression of people from a huge variety of age groups, social and racial backgrounds who would otherwise be largely hidden from public view. It’s scintillating.
The main feeling taken away from this exhibition is one of mild awe. There are some truly beautiful and original things to witness here, including but by no means limited to acrylic and watercolour portraits, life drawings, piano scores, rap songs, stop-motion animation and sculptures (often made from recycled or unusual materials). This visual and acoustic feast, coupled with the starkness of the emotions and inner thoughts that have motivated many of these artists to create their work, is at times moving to the point of tears, and makes the experience hard to forget.
Photos: Andrei Grosu
The Strength and Vulnerability Bunker is at the Southbank Centre until 1st December 2013. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.