Growing up in a privileged part of the world, it is easy to take my childhood luxuries for granted. Video games, amusement parks, and organized sports are just a small fraction of the things that seem so ordinary, yet for children in other parts of the world, these things simply do not exist.
Despite the lack of the options that they have, children in less privileged areas still make do with what they have and turn their surroundings into grand areas of play. Febrik: Play, I Follow You, an exhibition currently on display at the South London Gallery, aims to show this to viewers through a series of photographs, animations, and texts.
Focusing on children in Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut and Amman, the images and texts describe how they have taken abandoned objects and common spaces and transformed them into tools for playing. Chairs have become racing platforms, old mattresses have become a pretend nursing station for young girls, and clothing lines have become obstacles for paper airplanes. Even something as simple as people watching is turned into a game of scenario building for the children.
I spent a fair amount of time at the Febrik exhibit. The images are great, but what I found myself most immersed in was the text. Each image is accompanied by a short story that explains the game depicted in the picture. I felt myself becoming more attached to the people and settings in the images. It was interesting to see how they used their imaginations to put different objects and places to use.
One of my favorite stories involved a boy named Mohamad and the paper planes he learned to make from the boy next door. Mohamad’s grandmother would visit their home when their water tank was filled, and there she would wash her clothes while she cooked and spent time with the family. She would hang her clothes out to dry on the roof where the wind would sway them back and forth, creating a new game for Mohamad. Mohamad would use the swaying clothes as an obstacle for his planes to overcome. He would make planes of different shapes and sizes and then see which plane could travel the furthest through the obstacle. It is such a simplistic game, but I can imagine myself emulating and enjoying it as a child.
In the center of the exhibit you can find an old television set playing the sounds of children laughing to a series of stop motion animations. Each animation shows cut out paper children playing one of the pictured games, and these animations are accompanied with text that explains how it originated. I found the animations entertaining, and I ended up going through the entire loop to see all of the games in action.
On one wall you will find a set of brochures, named the Rail of Play Encounters, as well as the Proposition-O-Meter. These brochures list the different games, the child who founded the game, and additional information about the child. They were a nice little addition to the exhibit, and along with the Proposition-O-Meter, they helped introduce me to the goal of the exhibit. This goal was further explained by a projection on the opposite wall. This projection introduced The Shop of Possibilities, included pictures of South London Gallery projects in progress, and directed me towards the room next door.
The room next door provided more information on the Shop of Possibilities. In 2010 the South London Gallery created Making Play and later added an additional unit called the Shop of Possibilities. These units are used to provide free afterschool and weekend clubs for children, while promoting contemporary art practices in children’s play. More information on this program can be found on their blog, which can also be accessed, through the use of a projected computer, in the room next door to the main exhibit. In this room you will also find a spy hole that will show you where you can find the Shop of Possibilities.
Febrik: Play, I Follow You was an exhibit that I found to be informative and thought provoking. Not only did it make me step back and take a look at things that I take for granted, but it also gave me a deeper appreciation for childhood creativity. Seeing such simple items and spaces transformed into tools of play was something I can really appreciate. I would highly recommend taking some time to visit the exhibition and learn more about the Shop of Possibilities on their blog.
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Febrik: Play, I Follow You at South London Gallery. Exhibition is free to attend and ends on 22 July 2012.
Shop of Possibilities: http://shopofpossibilities.blogspot.co.uk/