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Somerset House

Bankside Somerset House was once an elitist site for displays of royalty but now, with events like Get up, stand up now, it’s more of a people’s palace of culture.


Jenn Nkiru, ‘Still from Neneh Cherry, Kong’, 2018. Copyright of the artist.

Sean Sheehan


The curator is the son of Horace Ové, a black artist whose work epitomises the exhibition’s celebration of Black creativity in Britain and beyond.  Horace Ové, the first black British person to direct a feature film (Pressure, in 1976), took  photographs of huge interest, like one taken in Paddington station in 1967. It shows Michael (not Malcolm) X and his entourage walking down a platform to board a train. John Lennon befriended Michael X and tried to save him from execution in Trinidad in 1975. Another of Ové’s photographs shows Lennon presenting his hair to Michael X for auction in 1969.

Get up, stand up now displays the work of over 100 artists and is testimony to the diversity of talentt – in painting, film photography, music, literature, design and fashion – that an overwhelmingly white British art community has been woefully slow in recognising.

Joe Ogunmokun, his mother Adebimpe Ogunmokun and brother Michael Ogunmokun From Nigeria.  The New Londoners © Chris Steele Perkins

These black artists did not emerge sui generis – their work is rooted in experiences of dislocation and immigration – and  Kaleidoscope, a photography  exhibition exploring immigration and resultant issues of identity in Britain, perfectly complements Get Up, Stand Up Now.

Kaleidoscope, the free exhibition in the South Wing of Somerset House, could have been called prisma – both words trumping notions of monoculture with ones of plurality. British identity entails multiple perspectives, memories and ethnicities and the photographers embody this in their backgrounds hailing from the Caribbean, Italy, Hong Kong, South Asia, Canada, Argentina and Africa.

Culture of the culinary kind beckons at the white-tented San Miguel Terrace Bar, on the promenade between Somerset House and the river. Plane trees on the Victoria Embankment shroud views of the Thames flowing past but the al fresco setting is enough to make this an enticing watering hole before or after a visit to Somerset House’s exhibitions. Buoyed up by the bar’s disco-beat music, office workers from the vicinit chat jovially after 5pm; afternoons and weekends are quieter.

Somerset House Terrace with San Miguel
Agency: Pablo London
Photographer: Jim Marks

Spanish entrepreneurs, establishing the first brewery in south-east Asia, in the Philippines in the last decade of the nineteenth century, named their beer San Miguel. It was the 1950s before the company set up production in Spain and since then it has expanded into a worldwide brand.

There are some ten types of San Miguel beer on the menu at the Terrace Bar, plus wines and cocktails, supplemented by a tasty selection of Iberian tapas: choricitos al vino; Padrón peppers from Galicia; albondigas in a bold Romesco sauce that evoke Catalonian flavours. Specialities on the menu include flatbreads, freshly cooked in a pizza oven at the Waterloo Bridge end of the bar, and a sharing board of three Spanish cheeses – idiazabal from the Basque country, manchego from La Mancha and tetilla from Galicia.

San Miguel Terrace Bar is open from noon till late; Get up, stand up now until mid-September and Kaleidoscope until 8 September.

(Images provided by Somerset House)

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