The Southbank Centre is launching a public art and poetry project to celebrate and highlight the contributions of key workers who have kept the country running during the COVID-19 crisis.
The original portraits the artists produce – whether in the form of paintings, drawings, photographs and texts – will be reproduced as large scale posters and presented across the Southbank Centre from mid August to November 2020.
The portraits and poems will be spread across prominent places and popular walkways throughout the 11-acre site in a kind of outdoor gallery that is accessible to all for free.
The Southbank Centre is commissioning new portraits of key workers and everyday heroes from some of the UK's leading contemporary artists, including Turner Prize winners Lubaina Himid and Jeremy Deller, and rising international stars of painting including Michael Armitage and Ryan Mosley.
Alongside these artworks, newly commissioned poems will celebrate and illuminate the often unsung lives of key workers, with contributions from Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, 2019 Ted Hughes Award winning poet Raymond Antrobus, 2020 T.S. Eliot Prize winner Roger Robinson and rising stars including poet and nurse Romalyn Ante and Bristol's City Poet Vanessa Kisuule writing poems which will be displayed around the site.
Participating artist include: Michael Armitage, Lydia Blakeley, Jeremy Deller, Lubaina Himid, Mahtab Hussain, Matthew Krishanu, Evan Ifekoya, Ryan Mosley, Janette Parris, Alessandro Raho, Silvia Rossi, Benjamin Senior, Juergen Teller, and Barbara Walker. Poets include: Raymond Antrobus, Romalyn Ante, Simon Armitage, Vanessa Kisuule and Roger Robinson.
In many cases the portraits result from close personal connections. A number of artists have chosen to depict family members who are essential workers. Barbara Walker, for example, is including a portrait of her daughter who works as a nurse, whilst Ryan Mosley's painting depicts his brother, a train driver.
Others have focused on front line hospital staff as well as key workers from their neighbourhoods – market stall workers, refuse collectors, and fruit-and-vegetable vendors. Wolverhampton based poet and rising star Romalyn Ante, herself a nurse, will write based on her own very personal experience of the pandemic.
"This extraordinary period in our history demands that arts organisations find new ways of responding to the moment and bringing art to the public," said Ralph Rugoff, director of the Hayward Gallery.
"Everyday Heroes aims to celebrate those people who have helped to hold society together in one way or another over the course of this year. At the same time it also highlights a range of ingenious and inspired approaches to image-making and poetry, whilst bringing the unparalleled site of the Southbank Centre to life in an entirely new way.
"At this particular moment, perhaps more than ever, this kind of outdoor exhibition can play a crucial role in furnishing the inspiration which visual art and poetry provide to our collective imagination and civic life."
Southbank Centre chief executive Elaine Bedell added: "I'm so pleased that we're now able to breathe some artistic life back onto our site for the first time since our coronavirus closure.
"We hope this wonderfully moving outdoor exhibition will delight passersby, inspiring and reminding them of the invaluable work of key workers during this unprecedented time."
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