Steve McQueen Lets Year 3 Shine At Tate Britain

Steve McQueen - Year 3, Tate Britain ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 30 months ago

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Steve McQueen Lets Year 3 Shine At Tate Britain Steve McQueen - Year 3, Tate Britain 4
Clifton primary school. Copyright Steve McQueen & Tate.

Most of us probably have a school photo gathering dust in a drawer at our parent's place. Mine is a reminder of the fact that I was even nerdier back then — I'm fairly certain centre partings were never fashionable, despite my mum insisting I should have one. Looking at my fellow classmates I wonder what's become of them.

Turner Prize winning artist and Oscar winning film maker Steve McQueen has filled the central halls of Tate Britain with year three class photos, populated by smiling 7-8 year olds. There are a whopping 76,146 children here from over 1,500 schools — in case you're wondering that's over two thirds of London's year three pupils.

Northway special school. Copyright Steve McQueen & Tate.

The full spectrum of schools are shown here — special educational needs, independent, faith and of course regular state schools. Most photos are fairly standard, often posed in front of the climbing frame in the gym with students in red or blue uniforms. However, it's the individuality that stands out — whether it be the fancy blazers and the largely white faces that suggest a private school or the ethnically diverse photos that suggest the photo was taken in a diverse borough such as Tower Hamlets or Brent.

However, McQueen's view of the work evokes a sense of political innocence:

"It’s to do with the moment in a child’s life when there is complete optimism and you’re not judged on your race, gender or class"

McQueen is hopeful that it will inspire these children to visit and engage with art. So am I, as most times I visit museums I'm constantly reminded of how white and middle class the audience tends to be — when it comes to Tate Britain, elderly too. That's not a representative cross section of London — these school photos are.

Little Ealing primary school. Copyright Steve McQueen & Tate.

There is limitless potential in those bright young faces. Within these photos are children who have the capabilities to revolutionise our lives, set foot on Mars and have children of their own who will one day sit down for their class photos.

In 30 years these children will be the same age as I am now — who knows what the world will look like then, Crossrail may even be up and running. What matters is letting kids know that they matter, and that's been achieved by hanging their photos in a prestigious art institute. Whatever London looks like in the future, these children are going to inherit it. Yes that's a large responsibility to place on such young shoulders but they're also inheriting one of the world's great cities — let's ensure they get to appreciate all the wonderful art that comes with it.

Steve McQueen: Year 3 at Tate Britain is on until 31 January 2021 and is free to visit.

Several of the photos will also be displayed on billboards around London until 19 November.

Last Updated 07 July 2020