S.M.I.L.E-ing Boys at Southside

A new exhibition of portraits by Kay Rufai opens during Children’s Mental Health Week

Artist Kay Rufai presents a new exhibition of portraits at Southside Shopping Centre, celebrating the culmination of 8 weeks of creative workshops with 60 Black boys from Ark Putney Academy, Ark Bolingbroke Academy and St John Bosco College.

The S.M.I.L.E (SEND ME INSPIRING LOVING ENERGY)-ing Boys project is a happiness research-led creative arts project created by artist Kay Rufai and supported by Wandsworth Borough Council.

After visiting countries with high rankings of happiness including Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden, Norway) and Bhutan (for its measure of Gross National Happiness instead of GDP), Kay uncovered eight factors responsible for happiness. These factors were used to design a series of workshops with 13-year-old Black boys involving poetry, film, discussion-based art sessions and photography.

The project uses creativity to address the mental health needs of Black boys, while challenging the negative stereotypes of this demographic in the media and in society. To date, Kayhas worked with over 300 13-year-old boys from across ten London boroughs, and has displayed their portraits all over London.

Kay Rufai said: “The S.M.I.L.E-ing Boys project has provided me with the opportunity to realise a vision of creating a humanised version of Black boys while advocating for a more care-centred approach to supporting their mental well-being. It is the project I needed when I was 13 and never had, which is bringing me healing and joy simultaneously.”

One S.M.I.L.E-ing Boys participant, Sashon,said: “I enjoyed it because I could express myself a bit more than I would in normal classes and it’s like a free environment where you could just talk about how you’re feeling and I feel more educated with what’s going on around me. It made me realise some deeper things.”

Wandsworth Council’s Cabinet Member for Community Services and Open Spaces, Councillor Steffi Sutters said:“Kay Rufai’s poem Black Future was commissioned as part of Wandsworth Borough Council’s Black History Month cultural programming in 2020, and we are delighted to continue to support and champion Kay’s work into 2022 with this project. The health and wellbeing of Wandsworth’s children and young people plays a significant role in our vision for arts and culture in the borough, and the S.M.I.L.E-ing Boys project is a brilliant example of how creativity can make a positive impact on the mental health and well-being of our communities.”

The S.M.I.L.E-ing Boys project is supported by the Wellcome Trust, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Arts Council England and NikeLondon Black Community Commitment. The exhibition and series of workshops with Wandsworth schools in 2021-22 has been supported by the Wandsworth Grant Fund.

On Wed 9 February, the exhibition launch was attended by Wandsworth’s Deputy Mayor, Cllr Lucy Mowatt, many of the participants who came to see their portraits in situ and celebrate together with their families, and the Leader of Wandsworth Council, Cllr Ravi Govindia.

S.M.I.L.E-ing Boys | Wed 9 – Fri 25 February 2022, outside the Waitrose entrance in Southside Shopping Centre, Wandsworth Town

(Some of) Wandsworth’s S.M.I.L.E-ing Boys