Art Against Knives: Freedom

The youth-led charity explores the meaning of freedom in a society where police and communities are divided

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Although ‘freedom’ is a human construct it is also a right we all deserve. It is not something bargained for, or something anyone can impinge upon. Or, so you would assume. After Oliver Hemsley, then only 21 years old, was stabbed without provocation, he formed Art Against Knives; a youth-led charity that combats violent gang culture by looking to the root of the problem. The latest venture by the organisation is an exhibition which questions the reality of freedom for young people on the streets of London.

On the anniversary of London’s riots that scarred the city and bred distrust between the police and its communities, Art Against Knives is holding this exhibition. The showcase is centred on the borough of Hackney and uses film, audio, photography, painting and writing to question power displacement and the police’s use of the ‘stop and search’ campaign. Dazed Digital spoke to Katy Dawe, the co-founder of Art Against Knives, to hear more.

Dazed Digital: What does 'freedom' mean to you?
Katy Dawe:
This is a hard question to answer because, honestly, I've never had to question my own. By definition Freedom is “the right to act and think as one wants without restraint". This is exactly what this exhibition is about, it's an opportunity for people to openly communicate and discuss issues that they feel strongly about.

DD: How did you choose the art/artists involved in the exhibition?
Katy Dawe:
All of our projects work to support existing youth providers who successfully work with young people on the ground. This exhibition was born from an on-going conversation between youth organisations we work closely with in Hackney (YHWorld, Poached Creative and Off Centre) We have all had increasing concerns about the deteriorating relationship between young people and the police - stories and accounts that we hear on a daily basis have left us feeling that little had changed since the riots last year...This exhibition is quite simply a platform for young people, as well as established photographers and youth providers, to communicate how they feel about the impact of stop and search laws upon their freedom. 

DD: How did last year’s riots and the aftermath of them affect Art Against Knives?
Katy Dawe:
The riots have obviously been hot topic over the last year. One of our biggest challenges is to ensure that the young people we work with are given the platform and opportunity to express what they think. This is why we opened the Art Against Knives Gallery, and why this exhibition is so important. And, this exhibition is an opportunity to bring the issue of stop and search to the attention of the nation and encourage people to put themselves in the shoes of young people who feel victimised and excluded because of stop and search laws. Many of the young people we work with say they are being stopped and searched far too often and often without good reason.

DD: Can you tell me about the film created for the exhibition?
Katy Dawe:
PAGAN is a short (10 minute) film created by The Right Track, a project run by Off Centre – who’s one of the key collaborators on this exhibition – which aims to support young people in finding activities to boost their skills and employability. The film follows the story of Kes - an 18-year-old Hackney resident. Since the age of 11, Kes has been stopped and searched roughly 30 times. PAGAN tells Kes’ story as he speaks to the police, CCTV operators and lawyers about stop and search. The screening at our exhibition is a preview screening, with the film being officially launched on 31st August at Dalston Eastern Curve / V22.

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