Culture, Manchester

Portrait Youth: Exhibition explores the individual and civic identities of Greater Manchester’s young people

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The Portrait Youth Project is a collaboration between the Manchester Youth Council and the Manchester Fashion Institute at Manchester Metropolitan University.

By Pierangelly Del Rio Martinez

Personal identity and beliefs can be explored and articulated through interactions between and fashion and dress. This is one of the main concepts behind the Portrait Youth Exhibition recently launched at Manchester Central Library.

The exhibition, conceived by Manchester Metropolitan University’s Fashion Institute in partnership with the Manchester Youth Council, features a series of powerful photographs of Manchester Youth Council members.

Showcased in the shelves of the reading room, the photographs aim to explore the individual and civic identities of the Greater Manchester’s youth through clothes and styling. These visual narratives, accompanied by a series of interviews exploring the individuals experiences of living in Manchester and how their identity interacts with geographical and cultural environments.

This week the exhibition’s creators and sponsors reunited at Manchester Central Library to discuss the project. Manchester’s Lord Mayor Eddy Newman, attended the reception accompanied by his daughter Lady Mayoress Cllr Eddy Newman.

The Lord Mayor praised the participation of the young people and took the opportunity to invite attendees to see the photographs and reflect on their content. He said, “Try to work out what people are thinking, what are they saying within those expressive cases. I think the reading room is a fitting venue to celebrate, showcase, the people from the youth council who campaigned together with the UK youth parliament at a national, local level on issues that are important to young people.”

The Lord Mayor also mentioned the aftermath of the terror attack at Manchester Arena, which took place on 22nd May. He applauded the Manchester Youth Council’s response and initiative that was taken to face the situation. He said, “The work against state crime and the work bringing together young people from different communities is all part of what we all have been doing; that tremendous response of the people of Manchester saying we are not going to be divided.”

The Lord Mayor went on to introduce Jo Jenkison, one of the initiators of the exhibition and lecturer of Fashion Design & Technology at Manchester Fashion Institute. Jenkinson took the opportunity to highlight the work of fellow colleague Zoë Hitchen, lecturer of Promotion, Film and Photography and the exhibition’s photographer.

Jenkinson said, “One of the ideas we had is that we as fashion people wanted to look at how we can do clothes that you all wear and the everyday language that we use every day to construct the identities of the young people in Manchester.”

Jenkinson went on to describe how the project was conceived and the process of making the photographs. The Portrait Youth team worked with 14 members of the Manchester Youth Council; a group of young people actively involved in their city and communities, campaigning on issues that have a significant impact on the region’s youth. They were invited to a series of workshops and were asked to take a bag full of valued belongings and artifacts which described who they were as individuals and could explain Manchester as well.

Jenkinson described the creative process as “dress-up,” followed by interviews which resulted in a high number of impressive photographs that provide a snapshot, a social history, of these group of young people at this moment in time.

Jenkinson added: “I think the images are so rich because of the conversations that happened around them.”

Special thanks were given the exhibition’s sponsors and collaborators such as the Central Library, the Manchester Centre for Youth Studies, the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, RAH!, participants from the Manchester Youth Council and the engagement coordinator Jo Aungier, who connected the young people with the Manchester Fashion Institute.

The Portrait Youth Exhibition has been designed to be a long-term initiative which aims to work with further diverse youth communities across the Greater Manchester region. The programme encourages any young person interested to get in touch and join future workshops.

The exhibition will continue to be showcased in the Central library’s Reading Room until Saturday 4th November.

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Pierangelly Del Rio

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