The Kibbo Kift Kindred
The men in hoodies and belted tunics, clutching totem poles, could be Shoreditch hipsters. In fact their faces stare out from a photograph taken in 1925. As part of their programme of curating exhibitions from archive material, the Whitechapel Gallery is celebrating the work of the progressive English organisation, The Kibbo Kift Kindred (sometimes dubbed ‘the radical Boy Scout rebels’). ‘Kibbo Kift is little-known, which is one of the things that makes them exciting,’ says Dr Annebella Pollen, co-curator of the Whitechapel show. ‘They have been written about in terms of youth movements of the 1920s, and political campaign histories – but never from the point of art and design.’
Previously unseen woodcarvings, furniture, ceremonial dress designs, hand-decorated tents, banners, set designs, and archive photographs taken on parades and camping trips present a forgotten moment in British social history which continues to resonate today. Pollen, who is Principal Lecturer in History of Art and Design at the University of Brighton, has organised the show, Intellectual Barbarians: The Kibbo Kift Kindred, with Dr
Nayia Yiakoumaki, curator of the Whitechapel’s Archive Gallery. As a textile historian, Pollen first came across Kibbo Kift when her daughter joined the youth movement, Woodcraft Folk – and she became fascinated by ‘these archaic rituals and strange languages’. As she looked further back in the archive she came across the eccentrically attired Kibbo Kift. ‘I thought these are like modernist constructivist avant-garde costume, this is not Brownies and Guides,’ she recalls. ‘Many of the images are so contemporary in terms of fashion,’ agrees Yiakoumaki. ‘It’s totally coincidental but if you look at music videos with hipsters wearing foxes’ tails and masks, some of these images could have been taken last year.’
The movement, which only ever had about 500 members at any one time, was started by artist, writer and pacifist, John
Hargrave – after he became disillusioned with the perceived milituristic sympathies of the
Boy Scout movement. He created the progressive,
back-to-nature Kindred in 1927 hoping to train
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