Diana McClure (Afropunk) reviews “Get Up, Stand Up Now,” curated by artist Zak Ové at London’s Somerset House, featuring the work of 110 interdisciplinary artists from the Black diaspora, including many of Caribbean heritage. Here are excerpts from her article and interview with Ové. The exhibition opened on June 12 and will be on view until September 15, 2019.
[. . .] Tracing multigenerational artistic lineages across mediums and the Black diaspora, Get Up, Stand Up Now features the work of 110 interdisciplinary artists, and includes both members of the ancestral generation and a vast array of 21st century global Black creatives.
Ové’s keen eye, and deep personal engagement with the historical context guides the show’s exploration of unresolved diasporic concerns, and how new-world mediums and materials are taking these conversations into the stratosphere. “We’re questioning our future through Afrofuturism,” the 53 year-old visual artist says. Get Up, Stand Up Now emphatically reclaims the colonial origins of Somerset House, a neoclassical palace built towards the end of the 18th century, and paints it Black. The exhibition’s programming gets your mind right, touching upon every medium — visual art, music, performance, sculpture, installation, food, film, conversation — where Black creative vision helped construct the modern cultural landscape. There’s even an accompanying podcast series to bring you all the way up to date.
How Zak Ové approached the monumental task of putting together Get Up, Stand Up Now, and why he did, was the subject of AFROPUNK’s email conversation with the artist.
Can you tell us about the genesis of this exhibition and honoring the legacy of your father, the film-maker/photographer Horace Ove?
I started by looking at my father Horace’s archive. He created his first film [Baldwin’s Nigger] 50 years ago. I was born into an artistic family and brought up in an extended artistic family. Many practitioners of the Windrush generation became parental to me. Quite literally, I began with all of them.
What was fascinating to me for this show was thinking about which peers were working alongside Horace and then explore who their work was talking to – the next generation of artistic cousins who were inspired by them, taking forward similar themes, and how they spoke collectively. I was keen to demonstrate how these pioneering figures informed the work that followed. It’s important to recognize this dialogue, and to consider the new generation of young Black artists who are looking for people working in their practice, speaking about issues like their own, from their own homegrown society.
Everyone stands on the shoulders of their elders. Regardless of age and boundaries, I realized there was a shared experience throughout these different mediums and throughout the diaspora. And it just excited me. Reviewing the whole of this show, it’s interesting for me that my father had literally created a podium for so many Black artists, to honour them. I think he strongly believed that if we don’t honor ourselves, who will? Moving forward, we need to revere our own practices within institutions like this one, championing our own.
[. . .] Is there a particular distinguishing characteristic or unique flavor embedded in Black British art that informs its ethos? Did your own interest in Carnival as a site of artistic inquiry color your approach to the exhibition?
I don’t think there’s a particular distinguishing characteristic in Black British art that informs its ethos, but more that the goal-posts of living and working in Britain give us an aesthetic barometer, by looking at everything around us in a city like this and using those as points of influence within our contemporary Black art making. What I find really interesting is the honing of materials — how people create narrative in their work, be it installation or sculpture, with a new hybridity of future-world materials. For example, we’ve seen mask-making evolve such as with my own use of automobiles or LR Vandy’s use of boat hulls – we’re questioning our future through Afrofuturism. Equally I’ve been interested by how we’ve had to draw ourselves into historical situations we were written out of, and the continuum of that; and how contemporary artists consider themselves in context of British history and a British future.
The importance of the exhibited works is this sense of pride, not worrying if it’s allowed or not. The artists are saying: “I can only apologise if this affects you; this is my soul, my beliefs and my ancestry, and I want to revere it.” Get Up, Stand Up Now is the school of loud, proud and unbowed. [. . .]
For full article and interview, see https://afropunk.com/2019/06/zak-ove-get-up-stand-up-now-london/