When Normal? Festival of The Brain approached us to put on an exhibition of teenagers work we jumped at the chance. In my experience of inviting young people to make zines and comics I’ve been surprised and delighted by how often it is used as an opportunity to express internal thoughts and feelings that might not normally be discussed.

Inspired by the phrase WHAT GOES ON IN YOUR HEAD? and similar remarks often said in frustration by adults toward teenagers, we decided to look at the realities of teenage brain development, ask how the generations could learn to relate to and understand each other.

Our first way of doing this was by asking the question ‘what goes on in your head?’ Not as a dismissive or judgemental remark but as a genuine offer to listen. Young people at special MCF workshops were invited to create artistic responses to the question, inspired by the post-secret project and their own ideas.

We were overwhelmed not only by the quantity of the responses but also the enthusiasm, creativity, and range of media used.

Amazing mixes of collage, painting, drawing, image and text – each one unique but each revealing universal themes and fears.

For some close up images check out our Facebook page as we’ll be posting these over the next few days.

All responses have been kept anonymous to protect the respondents, once these responses were created participants in the workshops discussed how they imagined adults would react if they shared their feeling, vs. How they hoped they’d react. We also discussed whether we allow each other the same grace and understanding we wished we’d receive from others.

I then explained that people attending the final exhibition of work would be invited to create their own responses and gave the young people a change to write messages to anyone who does.

The young people shared messages of encouragement and understanding that are simply inspiring.

At the exhibition we used the motif of a Brain to represent the internal world and an eye to represent taking a new perspective. Paper and tools to create artistic responses we placed on the table beneath the Brain. The young people’s messages were kept beneath the eye.

On the day of the exhibition the young people’s work received a great response from visitors with many taking the time to look closely at each piece and even participate themselves. We were also privileged to invite Tracy Mapp from precision teaching Kent to give visitors a talk about the teenage brain; what’s happening developmentally and what strategies adults can employ to better relate to teens.

I love how the project turned out. It drew out some of my core beliefs about the factory and put them front and centre- that comics and drawing can help us talk about ourselves. And that through creativity young people might be able to better integrate with society as they grow and find their way.

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