I was photographing a corporate function where kids from a local community where being honoured for the art they’d created. A boy was called up to receive a gold award for the best drawing. As he made his way to the stage, I could see he was being laughed at, mocked and ridiculed by the others. He looked different to them, a little overweight, shy and uncomfortable. His trousers had put three brothers before him through school, and they would see him through too, they were falling apart at the seams; were three sizes too tight and way too short. His shoes were shredded and had no laces; his jersey had holes all over and was also too short. From his trousers hung a little toy bear he clutches on to.
I know this kid. The kid that doesn’t relate to the world around him. The kid that is teased and talked about behind his back. The one that no one understands, forced to conform to a system he doesn’t fit in to, a square peg in a round hole. The “grey” kid that is glanced over like no-name packaging. The kid that thinks and sees differently, he doesn’t talk because he feels deeper, sees more and has surpassed meaningless conversations. This kid doesn’t find art; art finds him.
After the event, I find his artwork, and I am mesmerized by it; he has an incredible talent and is years ahead of his peers. It’s one of the best pencil sketches I’ve ever seen and trust me, I see hundreds. He had drawn corrugated iron shacks to look like the New York skyline. “I dream of going there one day,” he tells me later. “I am sure you will,” I say while trying to give him an encouraging pep talk. “What’s up with the toy bear,” I ask. “My grandmother made it for me; she has since passed, I carry it with me as sometimes I just need something to hold on to.”