Parents seeking to understand if the harsher realities of London life are filtering through to children may find the annual Children’s Commission provides a worrying yet inspirational indication.
Every year the Whitechapel Gallery challenges a leading contemporary artist to create new work to specifically engage with a younger audience. The Name of Fear, this year’s commission by Brazilian artist Rivane Neuenschwander, invited children aged 7-9 from across a range of London communities to share their fears in drawings and texts. Inspired by the superhero nature of capes and the protective garments of other cultures, every carefully-crafted contribution by the youngsters went on to be lovingly recreated by the artist into a collection of 22 unique fabric capes, each designed to bring some of the most poignant stories to life.
The result is an impressive array of styles, colours and stories all adorning the rails of the cosy second floor gallery. Aside from this what is most striking about the exhibition is that as well as surfacing common childhood fears like spiders, the darkness and heights, it throws light on the possible impact of London life on its youngest residents, with the inclusion of a mysterious masked cape being used to represent their fear of guns and knives.
Strangers, death and even the prospect of ‘silence’ also appear to be unnerving little ones who reside in our tumultuous city, while a spiky cape depicting Sadness suggests solitude is at its root. Yet, despite what could be seen as a bleak picture of the urban child’s psychology, the playful nature of the project is maintained by the inclusion of more abstract additions such as electric ghosts and talking trees, celebrating everything that is great about these wild-running imaginations.
Don’t be fooled by the title of the exhibition. If you’re thinking about taking younger members of the family, it’s strictly look-but-don’t-touch. Due to the delicate nature of the exhibits, kids will have to wait until the Family Day to try on these spectacular capes (25 July, 12pm-4pm, admission free). Alongside this treat, there’s a chance to make your own colourful cape with artist Laura X Carle and explore a brand new activity trail through the gallery. It’s also your best chance of interacting with this inspired work before it is donated to cultural institutions in the artist’s home country of Brazil.
Children’s Commission Rivane Neuenschwander: The Name of Fear is at the Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High Street until 30 August. Admission free.