Get Up, Stand Up Now

To recognise art by marginalised creatives that has for so long been ignored or sidelined, Somerset House is celebrating 50 years of black creativity in Britain and beyond in a major new exhibition.

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor, BITE


Just 12% of the workforce in arts organisations in the UK are from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds, while only 5% of staff at major partner museums identify as not white. These are just a few of the shocking statistics published by Arts Council England in their annual diversity report earlier this year. They signal a significant representation gap in the sector, which suggest that the concept of ‘art for all’ remains empty rhetoric.

To recognise art by marginalised creatives that has for so long been ignored or sidelined, Somerset House is celebrating 50 years of black creativity in Britain and beyond in a major new exhibition; Get Up, Stand Up Now. The exhibition fuses the past and present, old and new. It spans music, sculpture, photography, literature, fashion and more.

One hundred artists have been invited to showcase their work in the exhibition, which has been curated by Zak Ové, whose father Horace Ové is attributed to have created the first feature film by a black British director. As part of the Windrush generation, Horace Ové helped to lead a new cultural wave in the 1950s and 60s that drew from their African-Caribbean heritage and subsequent experience of Britain. The exhibition begins by focusing on these creative diasporic communities and what they have offered culturally to the UK, a wealth of art, music and history which traditionally hasn’t been celebrated.

Get Up, Stand Up Now © Peter Macdiarmid

Each artist will champion and showcase their own view of what it means to be black in Britain, which will span generations. The exhibition captures half a century of collective history, with each individual invited to “exhibit for becoming a true ground breaker of their generation and their genre.”

Artists include the Trinidadian born DJ and producer Jillionaire of Major Lazer who has created a specially commissioned soundtrack which will play throughout the exhibition; the filmmaker Jenn Nkiru who worked on Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s APESH*T music video; and the post-war photographer Charlie Phillips. Much of the material has never been seen by the public before and will be the first time it has been exhibited.

There is, and has been for many years, a problem with representation in the arts and across the media landscape in general. There have long been voices that weren’t listened to and marginalised BME artists who weren’t given the same freedom of expression as their white peers.

There is so much we don’t know about Britain’s artistic history and so much we won’t ever know if space isn’t given to those individuals and those stories that have, for so many years, been either underrepresented or ignored completely. Exhibitions such as this help to broaden our horizons and our curiosity for a space as yet so unexplored in mainstream art.

In addition to the exhibition, which runs from 12th June to 15th September 2019, Somerset House’s Creative Careers Academy, set up to provide London Living Wage work placements to underrepresented, talented young people in the creative and cultural sector, will offer a placement connected to the exhibition that will provide insight into production, education and curation.

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Art Representation