Tate Modern has collaborated with Kids Company, the charity
which supports children with severe behavioural, emotional and
social difficulties, in staging Shrinking Childhoods. This is a
unique outdoor art installation housed in a series of portacabins,
the product of workshops last summer which involved over a
thousand children and young people, traumatised by abuse, violence
The project is deeply moving on several levels – not least in
the range of the artistic talent on display, incorporating sound,
imagery, poetry and written testaments and in the starkness
and horror of the young lives it reflects.
The voice of Darnell, a thirteen year old poet and the only one
of triplets to be abused and rejected by his mother recites the
same poem again and again, ending with the lines, “I am strong, I
am lovable and I will succeed for I am the greatest and you can’t
touch me now. ” Each time the words are repeated, it becomes more
and more apparent that far from a message of jubilation, they
resonate with loss and bereavement.
In another portacabin, illustrating a the impact of drug and
alcohol abuse , a young person has graphically filled a pair of
Perspex lungs with cigarette butts. In another setting, a sugar
pink bedroom, a mobile of men’s shoes dangle ominously over the
model of a girl child.
0-19 readers may know this terrain of childhood misery well but
a visit may bring a new perspective – not least because all of
these children have slipped through the official net of support.
Camila Batmanghelidjh, psychotherapist and founder of Kids
Company, is a radical voice working with the young and damaged .
Each portacabin carries sparse observations based on her
philosophy which challenges the persistent demonisation of those
whom, often, dangerously no longer care because all empathy has
been destroyed by those they love .
“….Neither control nor scrutiny will change their behaviour,”
Batmanghelidjh writes, “Only powerful attachment relationships and
meeting of their basic needs can give them a chance to heal…”
The combined impact of those words and the installation itself
is seen in the responses the exhibition has evoked from the public
who have been encouraged to write their remarks, graffiti-style
on boards outside each portacabin.
“….Mummy cried,” is written in one childish hand. “It makes
you feel helpless…what can be done?” asks another. What can be
done is this: invest resources; expand understanding and find the
installation a permanent home in London. It deserves so much better
than to be hidden away, without sign posts, in an obscure corner
of Tate Modern’s site.
“Shrinking Childhoods” holds a mirror up to childhood
devastation but, paradoxically, it is also a triumphant record of
resilience and creativity. Visit it.
Shrinking Childhoods is on (at the rear) of Tate Modern
until Feb 17