In 2016, five young people with firsthand experience of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) curated and produced an audio-visual gallery installation to raise the profile of CSE and help redesign the services that could have helped them.
When it comes to making an impact, empathy beats sympathy. Hearing the facts has nothing like the power of firsthand emotional experience.
Commissioned by Plymouth City Council, the project sought to meaningfully involve young people in redesigning the services they could have benefitted from, while increasing public awareness of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and encouraging more of a dialogue around it. And sparking empathy is the most effective way to do that.
So, working from personal experience and desk-based research, we trained five young curators in artistic and curatorial practice, giving them a safe space in which to explore and communicate their experiences on their own terms through creative collaboration. No focus groups, No post-it notes. No interrogations.
The outcome was a “profoundly moving” visual and sound-based installation that took visitors into the emotional reality of a child experiencing CSE, centred on a mausoleum of ice- and glass-cast shoes that slowly disintegrated over the course of the day. Headphones playing a commissioned score heightened the feeling of isolation and vulnerability in gallery visitors, creating an experience of ‘feeling with’, rather than ‘feeling sorry for’ the young people affected.