This autumn Foundling Museum Trustee and Turner Prize-winning artist, Jeremy Deller, invites Jonny Banger, designer and owner of subversive fashion label Sports Banger, to show the work he gathered from the nation’s children during the lockdown. A selection of over 200 works from The Covid Letters will go on display at the Foundling Museum from Saturday 24 October.
As the country went into lockdown, Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, wrote a letter intended for every household in the UK, urging residents to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. In response, Banger invited young people, under the age of 16, to customise the letter, as a way of articulating their feelings – including about the Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, and the NHS.
The social media call-out was straightforward: ‘if you’ve received a letter, design a poster’. The rules too were simple: you must be under 16 years of age, draw straight onto the letter itself and ‘no digital’.
Banger received entries from across the UK, from toddlers to teenagers, which ranged from a simple scribble and calls to support the NHS with more PPE, to anti-government graffiti. Using pens, pencils, paint and collage, children took the opportunity to make their voices heard. Banger shared images of these ‘defaced’ letters on his Instagram feed, giving children a platform on which to share their views.
All of the children who entered received a certificate (making them an honorary pirate of the ‘Banger Fleet’), a bootleg Blue Peter badge, and a couple of t-shirts. For a lot of children, this was the first piece of post they had ever received.
Sports Banger started as an underground clothing company. Arguably one of the most sought after clothing lines right now, a label that would define bootlegging for the modern age, Sports Banger is known for its appropriation of classic sports brands, political messaging and sharp humour.
The idea for The Covid Letters came to Banger when someone, on receiving their Sports Banger t-shirt the same day as receiving the Prime Minister’s letter said on social media, ‘One of these is going in the bin’.
The re-appropriation of Johnson’s letter is similar to the bootlegging style of Sports Banger – by offering children the opportunity to react so directly, the letter is transformed into a tool for protest, dialogue and debate. A book containing all of the entries is due to be published in October.
Speaking about the project, Banger said: “I couldn’t be happier using my platform to give kids a voice. Little anarchists spreading joy. The Foundling Museum is an important part of the social history of London and the UK; its story more relevant than ever. I’m so happy the exhibition is showing here, it actually means something.”
Speaking about his invitation to Jonny Banger, Jeremy Deller said: “The Covid Letters are the best art to come out of lockdown, I am very jealous. They are funny, naughty and angry in equal measure. I can’t wait to see all the rudeness and righteousness in the same place, and in the same spaces as paintings by William Hogarth, who I am sure would have loved this work.”
Speaking about the exhibition, Caro Howell, Director of the Foundling Museum, said: “The Covid Letters forms a vibrant, uncensored and emotional time capsule that captures the creative voices of children at a moment of huge national anxiety. While the Foundling Museum’s historic collections speak powerfully to the lives of children, it is wonderful to hear them speak for themselves, through this exhibition.”
The Covid Letters will go on display in the Museum’s exhibition gallery, with letters also interspersed throughout its historic collections. Shown in the context of the Foundling Museum, this exhibition brings to life the Museum’s 300-year-old story of creative campaigning and social justice.
Visitors to the exhibition will have the opportunity to support the Christmas food bank run by Sports Banger & Friends and the Museum’s pioneering work with disadvantaged young people, through the purchase of Sports Banger merchandise and a limited-edition print.
The exhibition is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.
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