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‘To Sarah,’ the note begins. ‘Do you like me?’ Underneath, a box marked ‘yes’ lies empty. The ‘no’ box is ticked. Then, ‘Why don’t you like me Sarah?’
We’ll never know, because before Sarah could answer the note was confiscated by a teacher and plunged into a desk drawer, forgotten in a mess of trading cards and tennis balls – until teacher and artist Guy Tarrant came along.
Now it’s among more than 250 objects on display at the V&A Museum of Childhood’s ‘Confiscation Cabinets’, a fascinating new exhibition chronicling 30 years of diversion and deviancy at state schools throughout London.
‘I’m hoping people will stop to think about why so many pupils are disengaged in education,’ says Tarrant, who recovered the items from more than 150 primary and secondary schools over a period of 16 years. ‘Are London schools truly happy places?’
The answer to that question is probably ‘no’. For every adorable keepsake or toy – Sarah’s letter, a headless Mr T action figure – there’s also a shank or an air pistol. And despite the presence of some comforting classics – chatterboxes! Game Boy! – the exhibition has a sinister edge. Maybe it’s the sharpened glue spreader or the homemade bomb (a tennis ball filled with 200 match heads). Or perhaps it’s the Zippo-lighter/breath-freshener combination flamethrower. But some of ‘Confiscation Cabinets’ seems better suited to The Clink Prison Museum. Nick Aveling