Kaleidoscope Immigration and Modern Britain

At Somerset House, In amazing location a very interesting project. 12 June until 8 September 2019 Curated by Ekow Eshun and Darrell Vydelingum

At a moment of historic uncertainty over Britain’s role in the world, and with nationalist sentiment on the rise internationally, immigration has rarely been a more charged subject.

The photographers in this exhibition draw from personal experience of living in Britain as immigrants, or the descendants of immigrants. Avoiding reportage style imagery, their approach offers consciously subjective and often lyrical view of immigration in Britain. Collectively they create a composite portrait of our nation as a place defined by diversity and difference.

When we look through a Kaleidoscope, we see a constantly changing pattern or sequence of elements. Similarly, the works in this exhibition present a view of Britain identity, not a single monocultural lineage, but as an accumulation of multiple perspective and memories, ethnicities and racial origins.

Rhianne Clarke (b.1996, United Kingdom)

In the summer of 2014, Rhianne Clarke lost her father, Michael Robert Clarke; to cancer. A year after his death, her mother found a collection of 450 undeveloped negative taken by him during the 1970s and 80’s. Although he was untrained in photography, the pictures nevertheless show a strong aesthetic sensibility and speak poignantly of his life in Britain as a member of a immigrant family from the Caribbean. For Clarke, “Many Rivers to Cross” is a collaborative project with her father that points towards the process of discovery and consolation attainable through engaging with a family archive.

Kurt Tong (b. 1977, Hong Kong)

“The Queen, The Chairman and I, is a multilayered narrative that traces the path of Kurt Tong’s family from China, to Hong Kong, to the UK. Combining new photographs, found images and family album photos, Tong seek to reconnected with the Hong Kong of the past, humanising the political and social upheavals that brought the political and social upheavals that revealing the impact of the British Empire and Chinese Communism on his life. Having grown up between three different cultures, Tong view the project as a means to address a powerful, personal question: “Who am I”?

Lorenzo Vitturi (b. 1980, Italy)

Lorenzo Vitturi’s “Dalston Anatomy” is described by the artist as a “visual celebration” of Ridley Road Market in East London. A long-time resident of the area, Vitturi regards the market as a unique place where different cultures merge together in a celebration of life, diversity and unstoppable energy. Aware too that the local community and its economy are rapidly changing around him, Vitturi has striven to capture the area by picturing people and objects he encountered at the market, creating composite images from portraits and discarded goods that reflect the impermanent nature of a neighbourhood in transformation.

Mahtab Hussain (b. 1981, United Kingdom)

Mahtab Hussain’s work explores the relationship between identity, heritage and displacement. His themes develop through long-term research, articulating a visual language that challenges prevailing concepts of multiculturalism. In “The Quiet Town of Tipton” he explores the aftermath of a nail bomb attack that sought to maim and kill Friday worshippers at a mosque in Tipton, West Midlands. His photographs offer a portrait of a Asian community that first arrived from Pakistan in the 1950s and 60s in search of work, eventually settling, raising families and becoming in Hussain’s words, “truly part of British society”.

Billy Dosanjh (b. 1981, United Kingdom)

The work of visual artist and filmmaker Billy Dosanjh investigates race and the working class South Asian diasporas around Smethwick in the West Midlands, the de-industrialised factory town where he grew up. His essay “Year Zero: Black Country”, when thousands of economic migrants arrived from the former colonies in search of a promised land. In 1965, Dosanjh uses home Super 8 footage shot both in the Punjab, India and in the Black Country to chronicle the journey of one family to England.

Hetain Patel (b. 1980, United Kingdom)

Hetain Patel works in visual art and performance, often using humour and the language of popular culture to explore questions of culture and identity. Featuring Patel’s homemade replica Spider-Man costume, “The Jump” ties together the fantasy imagery of Hollywood superhero movies with the domestic setting of the artist’s British Indian family home in the UK. Featuring 17 of his family members, the film is shot in his grandmother’s home. This is the house that Patel and all of his immigrant relatives have in at various points since 1967.

Teresa Heng (b. 1977, Canada)

Teresa Heng’s work deals with transition and change. She commonly works on projects across an extended period of time, revisiting a place over several months to a few years. “Elephant” explores the people and places of Elephant and Castle, South London, a neighbourhood characterised by immigration and ethnic diversity. Eng is an outsider to the area, having moved to London after growing up in Canada. Despite this she rejects the distanced objectivity of documentary photography, offering instead a more emphatic connection with her subjects.

Chris Steele-Perkins (b. 1947, Myanmar)

In “The New Londoners”, Chris Steele Perkins seek to photograph a family living in London from every country in the world. The project is intended as a homage to diversity and a reminder of the significant role that immigration has played in the evolving identity of the city and the country as a whole. For Steele-Perkins it is a record of a new London, a new Britain and a celebration of the fabulous cultural richness of London.

Liz Johnson Artur (b.1964, Bulgaria)

For the last three decades, Liz Johnson Artur has been working on a photographic representation of people of African descent from around the world. Real…Times features scenes of black life in London, filmed by Johnson Artur during the summer of 2018: from a boisterous DJ session with the all women Born N Bread collective, to a crowd gathered to both celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the Windrush generation and protest at the government’s “hostile environment” policy for immigrants.

Seba Kurtis (b. 1974, Argentina)

Seba Kurtis grew up in Argentina and lived in Spain as an illegal immigrating for over five years. His work explores the dynamics behind irregular migration and the resulting impact on culture, society and the individual. “Heartbeat” is inspired by the UK Border Police’s use of human heartbeat detection system. The devices scan lorries entering UK ports and are sensitive enough to identify a human heartbeat within 30 seconds. Kurti’s subjects in this series are people being held at detention centres, their barely visible images a reminder of their tentative status in Britain and and the sophisticated technology arrayed against illicit border crossing.