This summer one of London’s most prestigious arts venues, Somerset House, is exhibiting Get Up Stand Up Now: Generations of Creative Black Pioneers in its West Wing Galleries. 

Celebrating fifty years of black creativity in Britain and beyond, the exhibition explores the legacy of film, art, photography, literature, music, fashion and design by featuring the works of one hundred artists articulating and addressing the black experience from established artists from the post war Windrush generation, such as pioneering Horace Ove (the curator’s father) to up and coming artists of the present day.  Combining historic art as well as personal archives and promotional photos, letters and film clips, the exhibition endeavours to show how artists have responded to key moments in history.

Armet Francis, ‘Fashion Shoot Brixton Market’, (c) the artist. From Somerset House Press Office (SH Press Office)

Each artist has been invited to be part of the exhibition on account of their significant contribution to shaping the cultural landscape of the UK over the last fifty years. A lot of the pieces depict remembrance and recognition of places and people, many of those well known and often overlooked historically.  All of their work has been chosen because it not only resonates in its original context and time and raised consciousness at the time but also globally, still challenging systems of representation and power today. 

Jenn Nkiru, ‘Still from Neneh Cherry, Kong’, 2018…(c) of the artist.
From Somerset House Press Office (SH Press Office)

The exhibition has been set up thematically rather than chronologically and it considers identity, music, influence, film and literature. In the vast array of British born artists featured and those who have lived there for a long time, it also includes influential artists from the black diaspora, such as David Hammond, Marlon James, Carrie Mae Weems, Sanford Biggers, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Gordon Parks. 

Yinka Shonibare CBE, ‘Self Portrait (after Warhol-6′ Courtesy of Stephen Friedman Gallery London and James Cohen Gallery New York. From Somerset House Press Office (SH Press Office)

I love the fact that this exhibition is questioning the lack of diversity in art galleries in London and cultural spaces just to exhibition black artists.  That is wonderful to see but, has Zack Ove bitten off more than he can chew by featuring such a broad spectrum of art, over such a large period? The success of two recent 2017 exhibitions about the black experience in England at the Tate (Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power) and South London Gallery (The Place is Here)  were incredibly powerful because they were much more focused on specific times and movements. 

The UK still doesn’t have any black art institutions and museums but there has at least been an increase in the amount of exhibitions in England that have targeted black culture.  However it is worth considering whether this representation of black artists is just about tapping into our obsession with identity politics or of this is truly to showcase such an incredible minority culture in the UK. 

The exhibition runs until 15th September.  For related talks, screenings and installations and panel discussions, for more information and dates throughout July to September click here.

Creative Arts Social is a not for profit organization. We believe that art is for everyone. We all have the creative potential to understand, connect with and benefit from the arts. For more information about the work we do here.    


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