This Exhibition Celebrates Identity and Immigration in Modern Britain

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Many Rivers to Cross© Rhianne Clarke

Featuring photography and moving image, Kaleidoscope asks what it means to be an immigrant or a descendent of immigrants in the UK today

If you are heading across to London’s major exhibition on black creativity Get Up, Stand Up Now at Somerset House this summer, make sure you leave plenty of time to stop by Kaleidoscope, a photography exhibition at the same site that brings together multiple perspectives on life in Britain today. Co-curated by writer Ekow Eshun and creative director Darrell Vydelingum, the show features work by ten artists who use photography and/or film, all of whom were either born in the UK to immigrant parents or moved to Britain at some point in their life and now call the UK home. Among the work on show is Teresa Eng’s photographs of the diverse community in her home borough of Elephant and Castle, Rhianne Clarke’s retrospective of her father’s photographs depicting his Caribbean community in 1970s and 80s London, and Chris Steele-PerkinsThe New Londoners – photographs of families who settled in London from the 200 UN-recognised countries of the world.

“We need to celebrate the incredible people who have come to the UK and made it their home,” says Vydelingum, who was born in London to a Mauritian father and an Indian mother. “For me, Kaleidoscope is a celebration. We wanted to create an exhibition that is about people’s everyday lives, to [show] who we are today, what we look like, and how we identify as individuals and as communities.”

For Eshun, who was also born in London and whose parents came to the UK from Ghana in the 1960s, the exhibition is about responding to and countering negative views towards immigrants and immigration. “Immigration and multiculturalism have, for some, turned into problematic terms and ideas,” he says. “Obviously Brexit wasn’t far from our minds and the way immigrants are [spoken about] in political rhetoric is quite alarming and disturbing. Darrell and I wanted to think about how we could make a response to that. Our aim was to look at immigration from the point of view of immigrants and to expand the concept of what that means and looks like. It’s about acknowledging the richness and possibilities that come from embracing difference rather than fearing it.”

As well as still images there are several video works in the show including a video collage by Liz Johnson Artur that weaves together narratives from London’s African diaspora, Hetain Patel’s playful film work The Jump in which 17 British Indian family members gather in his grandmother’s home in Bolton, and Billy Dosanjh’s Year Zero: Black Country, which transports viewers back to 1960s West Midlands. “Dosanjh tells these stories through wonderfully lyrical and poetic archival essay films with news footage, family album photos and cine films set to music,” says Eshun. “He evokes this really tender and very moving story of change, community, continuity and disruption.”

“Photography is a really immediate art form and so is film,” he adds. “It gives the opportunity to show rather than tell in ways I think people can really engage with.”

The exhibition is called ‘kaleidoscope’ because it’s a “multiplicity of perspectives on our collective identity,” says Eshun. “By bringing together work by a range of photographers you offer different perspectives on the subject of immigration and on what it is to live in Britain right now. That gathering together of perspectives doesn’t stop with the exhibition – hopefully the conversation continues.”

This weekend (June 22 and 23, 2019) during a series of events to mark Windrush Day, visitors to Kaleidoscope will be able to have their photo taken in a free pop-up studio, Backgrounds. The brainchild of Vydelingum, Backgrounds takes inspiration from the work of Masterji, an Indian immigrant who for decades photographed members of his local community in Coventry at his home studio.

“The idea with Backgrounds is you come in, have your picture taken, and we’ll share the images on a screen and online,” explains Vydelingum. “You can bring in photos or objects from your past – something with which you identify – if you want to tell your story [that way]. It’s about the subject and how they feel, and the stories we can tell. It’s about who we are today.

“We need to start celebrating the diversity of this country and its people and to create togetherness, which seems to have been lost,” he continues. “We need to be proud of all the amazing people who have come here, whether it was 50 years ago or two years ago. It’s not the buildings that shape cities, it’s the people in them. That is constantly changing and we should embrace it.”

Kaleidoscope: Immigration and Modern Britain is at Somerset House, London until September 8, 2019.

Generation Get Up! takes place at Somerset House on June 22 and 23, 2019.