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Law, Arts and Culture

MyLondon: law, homelessness and the city through the camera lens

Cafe Art PicBanksy's Dalmatian by Saffron Said

MyLondon: law, homelessness and the city through the camera lens.

According to a recent government study, rough sleeping has gone up by 37% in London since 2010. The MyLondon exhibition, hosted by The Dickson Poon School of Law, presents a series of photographs taken by people affected by homelessness as part of a creative process designed to aid their personal rehabilitation and a wider advocacy of the issue.

The photography exhibition has been specially curated by students from the School of Law who have worked to develop interpretations that explore the various ways photography, the urban environment and law might be able to aid our understanding of homelessness and the issue’s visibility.

The School’s Vice Dean for Students, Culture and Community, Professor Elaine Player says that this project, 'Reflects our enthusiasm and commitment to King’s 2029 vision ‘to make the world a better place’, not only through our research and teaching but through our extra-curricular programmes that reach out to our local communities. But collaborating with Cafe Art, connecting through visual arts with people who have experienced the social exclusion of homelessness, is not just about our engagement in public service. The partnership is a reciprocal one, enhancing our legal education, broadening our experience of life in London and hugely enriching the environment of our School.'

MyLondon marks the ongoing collaboration between The Dickson Poon School of Law, and the charity Cafe Art, which was established last year with an exhibition called Home is Where the Art is. Cafe Art is a social enterprise that operates alongside many of London’s homeless organisations. It uses the creative process as a tool of empowerment, exhibiting work by their affiliates at local cafes, art markets and corporate events. The charity’s aim is to give people affected by homelessness a creative outlet in an exchange that is predicated on a productive engagement with society.

Paul Ryan, one of Cafe Art’s Directors, described the partnership with The Dickson Poon School of Law as being, 'Symbolic of what we are trying to do with the project – connecting people affected by homelessness with the wider community through art and photography. These connections help everyone: the photographers gain experience and self-esteem and the community learns more about the issue of homelessness.'

Every year Cafe Art holds a photography competition for their affiliates. They provide a photography class and disposable cameras before sending competitors off into London to take their shots. Selected photographs comprise the MyLondon calendars that are sold to raise money for Cafe Art’s work. The project, which is now in its fourth year, has been covered by the BBC and The Guardian.

Martin Wagner, a first year LLB student, who worked on the exhibition’s curation emphasised how this project engaged the study of law in a broader social sense. 'A lot of these photos show that homeless people are essentially excluded from the legal system,” he said, “For law students, this really puts our studies into perspective and the role we might play in society.'

Ayala Ples, another law student who curated the exhibition, also explained how the project fosters a more creative social engagement with London: 'I really enjoyed being able to create a sense of belonging through the photos. They reflect the city we see every day perhaps from a perspective we’re not necessarily used to. You can see how the law applies, but also how it’s sometimes on the fringes.'

The Dickson Poon School of Law is hosting MyLondon on Floor -2 of Somerset House East Wing until September 2017. The exhibition is open to students with access to the building, but for members of the public, visits can be arranged by emailing Kieran McGrath.

For more information on Cafe Art and the exhibited artists, please visit their website at www.cafeart.org.uk.

MyLondon was produced as part of The Dickson Poon School of Law’s Arts and Culture Programme, exploring law’s intersection with arts and culture, providing a creative space for students, staff, alumni and the wider community. 

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