Sense of Belonging is a public art project created by young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds. Over the past year, they have been working with Autograph and youth media organisation Mouth That Roars to take photographs and make films, starting conversations and sharing stories from people in our locality.
Autograph is proud to be based in Hackney and as part of the project, we invited the public to join us in celebrating and documenting the many perspectives and experiences of self, identity and community life in our diverse borough by sharing photos in response to the loose theme 'My Hackney Selfie'.
We had a fantastic response! Thank you to everyone who took the time to share your images and stories with us. Below we are sharing 26 photographs selected by our judges from over 90 submissions – along with commentary from the photographers.
"Residents of Stoke Newington will know this wonderful annual street party very well. In this photo I have captured some of the people I know from my long term documentary project on Gillett Square. They have gathered on the steps of a friend's house to party and barbecue."
"It was the first weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown when I took this picture of two women relaxing in a park. Anxieties and uncertainties were at their peak. The area of Hackney where I live, by a river and next to marshes and parks, became a sanctuary to so many people from all walks of life and all communities seeking solace in the open. The image is part of a larger project celebrating conviviality, Hackney's diverse human tapestry and how invaluable nature and democratic, open, public and green spaces are to our wellbeing, especially in times of distress."
"My spiritual, introspective and expressive story began during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown period, confined to the small amounts of space in my home ... Through my meditation routine during this moment of trauma and isolation, I wondered on how I could elevate myself spiritually and how Angelic symbolism as encountered in my belief system could help me transition beyond this reality. I decided to turned the camera on myself as the primary subject of this series."
"This image comes from my Reflections series, a collection of black and white images always of a reflected subject. These images have a dissociative quality - like watching the world go by, looking up from a puddle on the ground after the rain, or looking through sheets of translucent glass."
"Highlighting the fear of fitting in, be that in the real world or online, My Digital Persona II comments on the pressures of social media, through the use of overly bright colours, stickers and gifs. Finding where one belongs is a challenge but through social media one can become whoever they wish, at least for a few moments."
"Ken is from Montserrat in the Caribbean and very much part of the rich history of the area." — Roland Ramanan
Kennyatta also features in our image gallery of Ridley Road Stories. Hear him speak alongside Autograph's director, Mark Sealy, and co-developers of the Future Hackney project here.
"The project started when my chronic pain was at its worse, when I was told it was nothing and it was all in my head. The photo booth strips explore the break in my brain. Separated they show a particular time in my life, and zooming in to each image is an event I try to erase from my memory. The photo booth provided me with a safe space to release my thoughts and yet kept it contained in this small box."
"Clara is a proud East Londoner and immediately wanted to represent Hackney ... When picking locations, Clara explained that the hustle and bustle of Hackney is precisely why she loves it; Dalston and Ridley Road markets are spaces where Black diasporic communities are able to exist within their cultural heartbeat."
"This image was captured as a part of The HOME Series: an ongoing project documenting concepts of identity from within the global African diaspora, by capturing participants in spaces that they currently inhabit."
"Joshua and Dylan [below] are part of the community in Gillett Square, Hackney who call themselves ‘the originals’. As gentrification creeps in I am documenting young people and their stories as part of a wider documentary project." — Don Travis
"My mate trusts me to look after his dog and make sure he behaves and is looked after. Trust is important when it comes to dogs and friends" — Joshua
"Dylan is open about his addiction issues and the sense of belonging he has and his drive to get clean. He wants more open discussion about addiction in poor communities and why young people need support." — Don Travis
"I know I have problems but people around here love me and that’s something you don’t always hear about." — Dylan
"Over the last ten years I have been documenting Gillett Square and some of the varied and more vulnerable lives that are attached to this unique location in Hackney, who come to the square for mutual support. Amidst difficulty and turbulence there were always moments of celebration and fun. For a while, a well known local DJ was camping in one of the workshops overlooking the square. Every Saturday there was music, bubbles and happy vibes emanating from his balcony."
"Whether through seeing and playing music over many years at venues like the Vortex or Cafe Oto, I have always felt completely at home in the diverse community of Hackney. Gillett Square has a unique and sometimes tortured but always vibrant eco-system. The project has involved interviews, portraits, funerals, and parties to name a few. I have sought to dig deeper than the surface impressions of folks who are just 'hanging around'. This has sometimes led to uncomfortable, intimate but always (I hope) honest images. I am in the process of drawing the work together for a book."
"This portrait is part of a series that was taken during the first Covid-19 lockdown. I am from Brazil and had been living in London for less than three years at the time, in Hackney. Not being able to interact with the rest of the world, I decided to turn the camera on myself for the first time. It represented a time of uncertainty, when I started to feel the impermanence of life as an immigrant."
"Lost in the western world we seek the motherland, to understand who we are and what we are yet to become."
"I was born in Homerton hospital and did my education in Hackney. When I started taking more photos I found myself shooting in the borough a lot more. Growing up in Hackney things weren't as accessible as they are now, but we always had a community, one I'm blessed to be a part of."
A project providing workshops, training and creative opportunities for young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds, opening up conversations about home and migration in the London Borough of Hackney.Read more
Find out more about the first iteration of our project in collaboration with Mouth That Roars
Lighting up Old Street roundabout with artworks by young people from migrant backgrounds
Sense of Belonging is supported by Hackney Council’s Shoreditch and Hoxton Arts Fund, created from a levy on developers to support arts and culture programmes that bring different communities together.
Sense of Belonging was delivered in partnership with Mouth That Roars.
Autograph is a place to see things differently. Since 1988, we have championed photography that explores issues of race, identity, representation, human rights and social justice, sharing how photographs reflect lived experiences and shape our understanding of ourselves and others.Donate Join our mailing list