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At Somerset House, Half a Century of Black Creativity is On Display

  • Armet Francis - Fashion Shoot Brixton Market
  • Benji Reid - Holding onto daddy
  • Somerset House Get Up Stand Up Now show Installation view
  • Somerset House Get Up Stand Up Now show Installation view
June 29, 2019
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

Due to the centuries of imperial rule and colonization, the United Kingdom was inhabited with an array of ethnical groups, the Caribbean being among the most dominant ones. Although embedded in a rigid class system, the society started shifting, especially during the early years after WW II which were apparently marked with a new hope rooted in antifascism and ideas affiliated with it (such as gender and racial equality).

However, during the 1960s the racial tension apparently grew, so young people started articulating their cultural and ethnic identity, reaching their peak with the definite resurgence of white supremacist groups and right-wing politics in the 1980s (for instance, in 1982 one of the most important radical groups led by the anti-racist discourse and feminist critique was founded and they were known as The British black arts movement).

Ever since, there was a certain consolidation regarding racial issues occurring in the British society. In light of Brexit, the intolerance unfortunately once again came to life. Therefore, the current exhibition at Somerset House presents the past fifty years of Black creativity primarily in Britain but abroad as well, by showcasing the domains of various individuals expressed through visual arts, film, photography, music, literature, design, and fashion.

Aubrey Williams - Maya Series
Aubrey Williams – Maya Series Cenote IV © Aubrey Williams Estate

The Curatorial Approach

The artist Zak Ové was appointed the curator of the exhibition and he decided to select almost one hundred interdisciplinary artists who have explored or are still exploring Black experience since the post-war period to the present day. His picks include Black Audio Film Collective, Glenn Ligon, Hank Willis Thomas, Jenn Nkiru, Larry Achiampong, Margaret Busby, Ronan McKenzie, and many others.

Namely, Ové was focused on authors of all generations regardless of the level of their fame; the curator was prone to show the full capacity of Black creativity and underline the continuity of the urge of the community to explore its legacy and deal with prejudice and intolerance.

Alexis Peskine - Aljana Moons II
Alexis Peskine – Aljana Moons II. Courtesy of Alexis Peskine and October Gallery, London

The Selection of Works

The leading proponents of post-war Black culture, such as photographers Armet Francis, Vanley Burke, Charlie Phillips and artist Aubrey Williams (founding member of the Caribbean Artists Movement active from 1966 until 1972) were kind to share their archives, so the exhibition features letters, photographs, films and audio clips publicly for the first time, revealing the intersection of the personal and the political.

The installment opens with the radical Black filmmaker Horace Ové and his dynamic circle of the Windrush generation creative peers. Some works were made specifically for the exhibition, such as an original soundtrack by made by Trinidadian DJ, producer and member of Major Lazer, as well as new works by artist Larry Achiampong, musician Gaika and filmmaker Jenn Nkiru (all of them Somerset House Studios residents).

Jenn Nkiru - Still from Neneh Cherry
Jenn Nkiru – Still from Neneh Cherry, Kong, 2018. Copyright of the artist

Get Up, Stand Up Now at Somerset House

The current exhibition definitely offers a rarely seen juxtaposition of the historic works, new commissions, and memorabilia from personal archives in an attempt to rightfully trace collective history. Additionally, it will be accompanied by extensive talks and events, and related programs such as Summer Series with American Express and Film4 Summer Screen line-ups, and through Kaleidoscope, an exhibition focused on the themes of immigration and identity in modern Britain.

Get Up, Stand Up Now: Generations of Black creative pioneers is on display at the Somerset House in London until 15 September 2019.

Featured images: Armet Francis – Fashion Shoot Brixton Market, 1973. Courtesy of the artist; Benji Reid – Holding onto daddy, 2016. Copyright of the artist; Somerset House Get Up, Stand Up Now show Installation views © Peter Macdiarmid. All images courtesy Somerset House.