Child’s Play brings together an exhibition of photographs, a symposium and a book by Mark Neville, an artist who works at the intersection of
art and documentary. Renowned for his socially focused projects, often based upon research by expert sociologists, this new project aims to raise awareness and generate debate around the complex nature of child’s play, and to advocate for improved provision for this universal right, as identified by the UN in the 2013 General Comment on Article 31 (the Convention on the Rights of the Child).
At a time when up to 13 million children have been internally displaced as a result of armed conflict, and traditional public space is being privatised, Child’s Play reinforces our responsibility to ensure that children the world over have full opportunity for play and recreation.
Neville presents a series of images of children at play in diverse environments around the world. Immersing himself in communities from Port Glasgow to North London, and in the war zones of Afghanistan and Ukraine, the artist has captured beautiful moments of free, spontaneous play. The exhibition includes new photographs of internally displaced children in Ukraine; residents of Kakuma, Kenya’s second largest refugee camp; and depictions of children at play in London adventure playgrounds, all made especially for this project.
Neville’s work challenges the romantic ideal of play with the reality of children’s lives, which is often harsher and more complex. We imagine we understand play – it’s a release from social and physical constraints or the intense engagement of imaginative pretense – and we instinctively know it is important for a healthy and happy childhood. Yet it is a notoriously difficult concept to define, and we often overlook its more subversive and aggressive elements – the importance of free, autonomous play for children in asserting power and expressing their identities. Through his photographs Neville captures children’s spontaneous urge to play and their determination to do so in the most unfavourable environments. His images reveal how, through play, children claim a place of power, safety and freedom.
The publication of the exhibition is supported by Outset England Education Circle.
Mark Neville is a British artist who has had solo exhibitions at the Imperial War Museum and the Photographers’ Gallery. He works at the intersection of art and documentary, investigating the social function of photography. His photographic projects to date have frequently made the communities he portrays the primary audience for the work. In 2012 the Andy Warhol Museum exhibited a body of newly commissioned photographic works by Neville which focused upon issues of race and the legacy of the steel industry in Pittsburgh. In the same year The New York Times Magazine commissioned Neville to make the critically acclaimed photo essay Here Is London, which they subsequently nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. These two bodies of work were exhibited together at the Alan Cristea Gallery in 2014, and explored themes of wealth inequality in Britain and America.
In 2011 Neville spent three months working on the front line in Helmand, Afghanistan, as an official war artist. The films and photographs he made there featured in a major solo show at the Imperial War Museum London in 2014, and have more recently resulted in ‘The Battle Against Stigma Book Project’ with the aim of challenging the stigma of mental health problems in the military. His work has been exhibited at venues including Tate Britain, London, Haus Der Kunst, Munich, and Jeu de Paume, Paris, and in 2016 Steidl published a major monograph on Neville’s socially engaged projects from the past ten years.