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Rens
van Strien

Raheem on a Sterling

Nominee Drempelprijs Autonomous Practices

During the 2018 FIFA World Cup, while Brexit laid bare some of the more unsavory elements of British society, the England football team flourished. The team was young, diverse, and dynamic. A team of hungry and driven professionals who took pride in the nation they were representing. They showcased England to the world, unifying the country in a way that their politicians could only dream of. 

At the heart of it all was a 24 year-old from the North West London that goes by the name of Raheem Sterling. Since that summer of love, he has transcended his performances on the pitch to become an eloquent spokesperson against the racism that exists within football stadiums and inside the pages of tabloid newspapers. For years, Sterling has been the focus of a vitriolic obsession by the media. Sterling’s lifestyle choices have been scrutinised in a manner that suggests rampant classism and racial prejudice exists in tabloid news rooms across the country.

Newspaper coverage of Raheem Sterling by The Sun

In response, Sterling has been a commanding voice in the debate about media portrayals of young black athletes. There are media outlets who try to insist racism in football is confined to the terraces of distant nations in the former Soviet Union. As if. Sterling has demanded they do more to fight lazy stereotypes and rank hypocrisy within their own ranks.

The moment Raheem Sterling decided to speak out against Racism

To honor Raheem Sterling for using his voice against injustice, I wanted to do the unthinkable – putting Raheem Sterling’s face on a 10 pound sterling bank note. Having your face put on a bank note is considered one of the highest honors one can get in a country. Since Raheem has become a symbol for speaking up against racism in football, I believe he deserves recognition.

Together with a group of young kids from London, we worked on a series of workshops where I asked the kids to design a £10 bank note with Raheem’s face on it. Beforehand, they were asked to come up with references they could use on their designs, making sure every aspect had purpose and meaning.

After digitizing the designs, another workshop took place in which the designs were printed on paper made of recycled newspapers. Not just regular newspapers, but strictly newspapers with negative reports about Raheem Sterling. By doing this, we wanted to show the kids that you can take something negative and turn it into something positive.

The notes were then framed, resulting in 10 unique bank notes. In addition to the notes, merchandise t-shirts have been made. I also added the kids’ full names on the t-shirts below their respective designs. In the end, we photographed them holding and wearing their own creations.
Please watch the campaign video below to see the whole process.

Please check @raheemonasterling on Instagram to see the complete roll out of this project.