“Shrinking Childhoods” opened in November 2004 on the grounds of Tate Modern. Initially it was a struggle to find it due to bad signposting, but as word got round and the exhibition began to generate interest from the public and the mass media, the original signpost was replaced with a clearer, user-friendly one.

Children abused in the early stages of their life, or those who grew up surrounded by drug addict parents who neglected their responsibility to nurture them, often end up with deep emotional scars and behavioural problems. “Kids Company” is a charity gives support to these vulnerable and isolated children by therapy, counselling, giving advice and practical support such as education and financial means. This exhibition is a result of collaboration with Kids Company and Tate Modern.

The purple construction represents the children’s living environment. Each exhibition space showcases installation work produced by over one thousand children in UK.

RC was subjected to horrifying abuse as a child. She could not bring herself to talk about it to those around her, and turned to drugs and alcohol to relieve the pain of the memories and recurring fear. Sometimes when it became so much that she could not cope with it at all, she would cut herself.

One of the installations of desks and chairs lined up as if in a classroom. Inside the desk lid, is a child sleeping in foetus position on the bed, while in the adjacent room used and unused condoms scatter the floor. A painting above it reads “MY MOTHER IS A (W) HORE.”

The room is dark and damp, litter on the floor and black plastic bags strewn across the windows. It is shocking, a landscape of a home of a dysfunctional family corrupt by drug abuse. The photo is of a father figure lying face down on the mattress, but in the next photo we see a small child, abandoned in the corner of the room. What sort of emotional growth will this child manage to achieve, living in such dire circumstances? On the wall is a note written by a child reading, “Take it from me it is (sic) coz you might as well say this was my house when I was younger …(text partly omitted)…. Drug ruin lives.”

Produced by a group of children who suffered sexual abuse. The youngest victim was seven years old. In many cases their abusers are members of their own family, and as a result the children grow up with profound emotional damage. When they grow up they become promiscuous and unconsciously recreate situations that they encountered in their childhood. Some leave home and turn to prostitution to make a living; others become distrustful of other people, hindering their ability to form a meaningful and significant relationship with other people.

This dolls’ house looks innocent enough from the outside, but take look at what the dolls are up to.

All the exhibits had a very powerful impact and the visitors could not hide their shock at the vivid ways they had been expressed.

Sexual abuse, drug addiction …. These are things you read about in newspapers and saw on the news. They are reality, but seen as taboo subjects at the same time. This exhibition provided an opportunity to see in concrete form “the unseen part of society” and by enabling these matters to see the light of day, it met a lot of public response.

I visited the exhibition three times, and with each visit the boards supplied in the exhibition area seemed to fill up with messages erupt with emotion: anger at the useless authorities and praise for the children.

“Kids Company” provides therapy for the children by means of various arts therapy such as dance, drama and fine art. The children, who grew up in incredible abusive environment as opposed to those who lead ‘ordinary’ lives, show immense creativity when given an opportunity to express their expressions freely. The company states that when adults cannot accept their roles in life and fail the children, the children are not to be blamed. For this reason, it is injustice to criminalise the vulnerable children.

Shrinking Childhoods
Date: 17th November 2004 – 9th March 2005
Place: In the grounds outside Tate Modern gallery, Bankside, London SE1
Open: 10:00am – 6pm daily

Text and Photos: Sari Uchida

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