It goes without saying that these are complicated, and often rather frightening times when it comes to Britain and its relationship with the rest of the world. It also goes without saying that without immigration, the UK’s cultural and social landscape wouldn’t be anywhere near as rich and interesting. Multiple viewpoints and experiences mean multiple ideas, and it’s exactly these that are being explored in a new exhibition at London’s Somerset House, Kaleidoscope.
The exhibition showcases photography and moving image work that explores ideas around identity, with pieces by ten artists that broadly aim to offer a visual survey of the multiple experiences of being, or being descended from, immigrants to Britain.
It’s a pretty wide-ranging remit; though the curation aims to show viewpoints from different generations and the varying experiences of coming to Britain from countries including Hong Kong, Jamaica, Russia and India.
The show is curated by writer and curator Ekow Eshun, chairman of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group and creative director of the Calvert 22 Foundation; alongside creative director Darrell Vydelingum, who will be working with the Somerset House Learning and Skills team to produce a participative project running alongside the show.
Much of the work on show is portraiture. The exhibition opens with Seba Kurtis’ series Heartbeat, which presents images of migrants held at British detention centres, drawing its name from the heartbeat detectors used by police to locate those who might be hiding in cargo vessels. Kurtis’ woozy, almost psychedelic colours are created used a mixture of long-exposure photography and Photoshop tinkering.
Kurtis draws on his own background throughout his projects — the photographer, now based in Manchester, left his native Argentina and made his way to Tenerife on a tourist visa just after the financial collapse in his home nation in 2001. He worked illegally there for low wages in construction, an industry that in Tenerife is largely based on the hiring of migrant workers.
Chris Steele-Perkins’ large-scale photographs in the series The New Londoners succinctly sum up the joy and chaos of big families. Jovial nans grin in the front row, apparently unaware that a young girl behind them appears to be shoving another kid. Or that a toddler nearby seems to be making a beeline for the window.
The series depicts families from each of the 200 UN-recognised countries of the world now living in London, presenting their images alongside stories about their origins and why they chose London as their home.
Those who saw the brilliant Dalston Anatomy show at the Photographer’s Gallery back in 2013 will likely be chuffed to hear that the work by Lorenzo Vitturi shown there will be making an appearance in Kaleidoscope.
The photography-led installation celebrates east London’s bonkers, often slightly stinky, always surprising Ridley Road Market, which Vitturi rather presciently looked to capture before it changed beyond all recognition like much of the area and trace its multifarious cultural influences.
It’s slightly disappointing that in a show that aims to offer a plurality of experiences and voices, there appears to be just three women artists featured – after all, the theme is a pretty broad one, with no shortage of British artists with ties to immigration. Among those who are included are recent grad Rhianne Clarke, who focuses on documenting her personal experiences with neighbours and locals in south east London.
Liz Johnson Artur, too, turns her lens on the capital in Real…Times, which brings together images that document London’s African diaspora, including shots of Black Lives Matter activist rallies alongside sequences from south London female collective Born N Bread.
Kaleidoscope: Immigration and Modern Britain runs from 12 June-8 September 2019 at Somerset House, London; somersethouse.org.uk