Get Up, Stand Up Now: Exhibition highlights

Explore key works of art from Somerset House's major 2019 exhibition, celebrating the past 50 years of Black creativity in Britain and beyond.

By Somerset House

John Lennon giving Michael X his hair to auction, 1970 (1970/1970) by Horace OvéSomerset House

Horace Ové

Black creative pioneer Horace Ové, father of curator Zak Ové, is at the heart of Get Up, Stand Up Now. Internationally acclaimed as one of the leading Black independent filmmakers to emerge in Britain since the Second World War, he has been influential too as a photographer and visual artist and has directed drama on stage. Horace Ové’s rootedness in film developed in his early years in his native Trinidad, then a British colony and a Caribbean island embracing a myriad of ethnicities - including African, Indian, Spanish, French, Portuguese and indigenous Amerindian. During the 1940s the Americans built military bases on the island to train their soldiers, and cinemas to entertain them. These sparked Ové’s early love of the medium.

Psychedelic Sister (1964/1964) by Horace OvéSomerset House

Growing up in the 1950s in Belmont, home to some of the important carnival designers and band leaders, he was exposed to a rich mixture of cultures. He first connected with the visual arts as a painter, but with the gift of a Rolex camera from a British family friend his lifelong fascination with taking pictures began.

"As a photographer, as much as in my film-making, I have always been fascinated by life in all its varied aspects. The surreal and abstract images that I see in our day-to-day surroundings are a major focus of my work. I try to capture the reality of a moment that attracts my eye and my mind in a diversity of people’s lives – their thoughts and inner feelings that are reflected in their faces and body language when not posed for the camera."

Horace Ové, CBE – artist, photographer, film-maker

I'm Home, 3 Moments (2018/2018) by Ronan MckenzieSomerset House

Ronan Mckenzie – I'm Home, 3 Moments

Ronan Mckenzie’s practice spans photography, directing, curation and programming. Her work is often tied together with her passion for creating more imagery that depicts the world as the artist would like to see it. She is noted for her sensitivity to honest, relatable emotion and the celebration of individuality within her practice.

In 2018 she funded and curated an exhibition titled I’M HOME, which featured four Black British female photographers and aimed to create a truly accessible art space.

3 Moments, originally shown at I’M HOME, is part of a body of work exploring Ronan’s experience of growing up Black British. As indicated by the title of the show, the works within the exhibition were a collection of individual responses to home and family, which Mckenzie feels is a relatable topic that is arguably more binding than race or gender.

Empowerment, from the series I AM SUGAR (2018/2018) by Richard Mark RawlinsSomerset House

Richard Mark Rawlins – Empowerment

A recent graduate of the Royal College of Art, Rawlins’ work investigates the ‘pop-cultural’ poetics and politics of life in the Caribbean.

Empowerment is part of I AM SUGAR (2018), a series of digital photographs responding to Stuart Hall’s Old and New Ethnicities essay of 1991. In this essay, Hall states that “I am the sugar in the bottom of the English cup of tea”.

This photograph situates a Black Power hand rising from a quintessentially English tea cup, designed in England, made in China and sold via Amazon.

The work examines how the Atlantic is viewed from Britain and the United States and vice versa, recalling the individuals that shaped both the British Empire and the descendants of African slaves, wherever they may be in the diaspora.

Figure at Treetop (2016/2016) by Che LovelaceSomerset House

Che Lovelace – Figure at Treetop

Che Lovelace’s art originates primarily from his experience of living and working in Trinidad and Tobago. His paintings, rendered in a vivid assortment of pigments on combined board panels, are strongly rooted in depicting the dense, highly charged layers of the Trinidadian landscape.

Figure at Treetop originated in one of Lovelace’s dreams. In it he remembers being at one of the tall lookout points on the outskirts of Port of Spain from where he could survey the city. He recalls the identity of the figure in the tree as being both simultaneously himself and someone unknown.

While making this piece, Lovelace retained as a mental reference Jean-Michel Cazabon’s painting, View of Port of Spain from Laventille Hill (1850).

Maya Series Cenote IV by Aubrey Williams (Guyana)Somerset House

Aubrey Williams – Maya Series Cenote IV

Born in Guyana, Aubrey Williams was a truly trans-Atlantic artist, producing work from studios in London, Jamaica and Florida. Williams expressed his absorption in the natural world through modernist stylistic trends then concurrent in Europe and America, finding particular affinity with the action and colour field paintings of Pollock, de Kooning and Rothko. Williams admired the music of Shostakovich, a visual expression of which he realised on sizeable canvasses. He had a deep interest in pre-Colombian culture, feeling strongly that the sudden extinction of the Maya should serve as stark portent for modern times.

Moving to London in 1952, Williams enrolled at St Martins School of Art, exhibited at New Vision Centre and was a founding member of the Caribbean Artists’ Movement.

Fashion Shoot Brixton Market (1973/1973) by Armet FrancisSomerset House

Armet Francis – Fashion Shoot Brixton Market

Armet Francis is a photographer and publisher who has been devoted to the representation of the Black diaspora for more than 40 years. He forged a career as freelance photographer for fashion magazines and advertising campaigns.

Seeking to subvert commissions to his purpose, Armet Francis used fashion photography as a form of social documentary. In the place of the numerous images of white fashion models photographed in the developing world with Black people and their urban spaces as a backdrop, Francis depicted Black people as bold, glamourous protagonists within their own multicultural communities.

Francis showcased Black British style in Brixton, a neighbourhood familiar to him, which had developed a large Black British community following post-war migration from the Caribbean.

Aljana Moons II (2015/2015) by Alexis PeskineSomerset House

Alexis Peskine – Aljana Moons II

Alexis Peskine’s work explores the Black experience. Early in his life, Peskine was exposed to questions of identity: one grandfather, Boris, a Jewish engineer, survived a concentration camp while his other grandfather Antonio, an Afro Brazilian carpenter, raised his family in the inner city of Salvador, Brazil.

Aljana Moons is a series of four photographs and a short film that explores masculinity, youth and fatherhood in contemporary Senegal.

The visuals in this body of work sit between documentary and scifi, where footage of children dressed in astronaut suits made from tomato cans and rice bags merges with mesmerising scenes of men at work, during rituals, in celebration and amongst community. The result is a poetic visualisation of the journey from childhood to manhood.

Still from Neneh Cherry, Kong (2018/2018) by Jenn NkiruSomerset House

Jenn Nkiru – Still from Neneh Cherry, Kong

Award-winning and visionary artist and director Jenn Nkiru has steadily been creating a name for herself with her distinctive visual style and powerful use of sound. Pushed through an Afro-Surrealist lens, her works are grounded in the history of Black music and the aesthetics of experimental film. She also fuses international art cinema, the Black arts movement and the rich and variegated tradition of cinemas of the Black diaspora.

This work, Kong, was created for Neneh Cherry and is a song of protest born during Europe’s ongoing refugee crisis. It is also a reminder of the far-reaching consequences of colonialism. Nkiru’s visuals are an ode to the varied identities of multicultural London and the feelings and energies of times past.

Self Portrait (after Warhol) 6 (2013/2013) by Yinka Shonibare CBESomerset House

Yinka Shonibare CBE – Self Portrait (after Warhol) 6

Yinka Shonibare’s work explores issues of race and class through painting, sculpture, photography and film. Having described himself as a ‘post-colonial’ hybrid, Shonibare questions the meaning of cultural and national definitions. His trademark material is the brightly coloured ‘African’ batik fabric he buys at Brixton Market.

Self Portrait (after Warhol) 6 uses the imagery of Shonibare’s trademark wax batik fabric overlaid across an intimate portrait of the artist’s face. Rich in colour and texture, it is a homage to Andy Warhol’s iconic Camouflage painting of 1986. Shonibare puts himself into the frame with a subtly psychological take on the genre of selfportraiture, his identity reflected in the material of his work whilst he also becomes both central to it and disguised by it.

Revolution Kid (Calf) - as part of Get Up, Stand Up Now (2019/2019) by Yinka Shonibare CBESomerset House

Get Up, Stand Up Now also features Revolution Kid (Calf) 2012, which continues Shonibare’s exploration of race and class through the use of taxidermy, technology and textiles.

Instead of his typical headless mannequins, Shonibare has assigned this figure the head of a calf in order to express the youthful spirit of revolution.

Engender, from the series 'We Are The Same' (2019/2019) by Campbell AddySomerset House

Campbell Addy – Engender

Photographer and filmmaker Campbell Addy’s work is narrative and emotional in nature, with a focus on unique casting and under-represented faces.

Engender explores the transition of liberation from past black LGBTQI+ artists to the current generation. In a series of stylised portraits, Addy reflects back onto the image a character that gives rise to questions and/or answers surrounding the life of queer artists of colour.

Engender pays homage to artists of the past who paved the way for certain types of work to be viewed in galleries and mainstream media. The work examines key ideas in photography, such as family, gender identity, Black identity, sexuality and religion.

Untitled 2018 (2018/2018) by Deborah RobertsSomerset House

Deborah Roberts – Untitled 2018

Deborah Roberts makes collages using photographs, magazine clippings and images from the Internet. She creates a unique visual language evoking African-American womanhood to explore the subjects of beauty, identity and politics. Forcefully confronting the hyper-sexualisation of women, and the media’s privileging of whiteness and youth, her figures often take the form of young African girls whom she presents with strength and power.

In this collage, Roberts emphasizes the changeable nature of identity and its potential to both empower and oppress. Roberts’ style of collage suggests bodily fragmentation, but the composite figures at the forefront of her world also exude imagination and vitality.

From 'Circus Master Series' (1997/1997) by AjamuSomerset House

Ajamu – Circus Master

Ajamu is a photographic artist, archive curator and radical sex activist. Through experimentation and risk-taking, Ajamu interrogates the intersection of Blackness and queerness.

Ajamu’s photographs reference portraiture while exploring identity, sexuality and pleasure. The sexual frankness in his work serves as an invitation to question who is looking, how, and who they are looking at, with the aim of examining our responses to the men in the photos.

His works subverts the notion that there is a homogenous gay male gaze and suggests the nuances found in identity and representation. He mainly works in black and white, evoking the history and tradition of photography, not because it is devoid of colour, but as an exploration of tones of grey and all the shades found in between.

Holding onto daddy (2016/2016) by Benji ReidSomerset House

Benji Reid – Holding onto Daddy

Theatricality, choreography and photography merge in artist Benji Reid’s practice as a self-titled Choreo-photolist. A key figure in the Manchester arts scene, Reid has been a major contributor to the Black Physical Theatre canon over the last 30 years. During that time he has made the journey from hip hop theatre pioneer to visual theatre and photography.

His work draws upon a cross pollination of hip and Butoh, a Japanese avant-garde dance style partly defined by intensely controlled micro-movements, surrealism and the primal expressions of the human condition. For him art was a means to curate his curiosities and establish hyper-realities and conversations.

Reid’s portraits are often staged in his home, utilising found materials and props and enabling the opportunity for testing boundaries and relationships with materials and others.

BS2, RESIST & REVOLT BLACK HISTORY, LIVE TRANSMISSION, Bristol Art Weekender, BEEF studios, Bristol, UK by Libita ClayonSomerset House

Libita Clayon – BS2, RESIST & REVOLT BLACK HISTORY

Libita Clayton creates audio, performances and installations. Often working collectively, she considers what we inherit today from the non-archival past, uncovering knowledge and experience through the body as container and carrier of memory.

Clayton’s percussive interventions punctuate Get Up, Stand Up Now throughout the duration of the exhibition. Musicians generate a series of improvised rhythms. Drum and cymbal become tools for Black innovation and liberation, rhythm a counter to the violent inherited legacies of colonial settlement and forced displacement of African peoples. Time, labour and survival are marked by every beat.

Outside the Piss House Pub, Portobello Road, 1968 (1968/1968) by Charlie PhillipsSomerset House

Charlie Phillips – Outside the Piss House Pub, Portobello Road, 1968

Ronald ‘Charlie’ Phillips is a restaurateur, photographer and documenter of Black London. He is now best known for his photographs of London’s Notting Hill during the period of West Indian migration to the city. His subject matter has also included film stars and student protests.

Phillips’ photographs documented the people local to him as they addressed the social and political issues of the late 1960s. A decade earlier, the area had witnessed the eruption of racial hostility, when white youths turned to violence as a way to divide Notting Hill’s diverse community.

In One of the first Notting Hill ‘street’ carnivals, numerous figures spill out of Phillips’ frame, alluding to the magnitude of the gathering.

Somerset House's Get Up, Stand Up Now shop (2019/2019) by Peter MacdiarmidSomerset House

Get Up, Stand Up Now at Somerset House, 12 June - 15 September 2019

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