The Southbank Centre has announced a new public art and poetry project celebrating the invaluable contributions of key workers who have kept the country running during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Everyday Heroes comprises original portraits – whether in the form of paintings, drawings, photographs and texts – reproduced as large scale posters for a dynamic display across the Southbank Centre from mid August to November 2020. The portraits are to be shown alongside poems and spread across the 11-acre site to create an outdoor gallery that is accessible for all and 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 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.

‘This extraordinary period in our history demands that arts organisations find new ways of responding to the moment and bringing art to the public,’ says Ralph Rugoff, Director of the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre. ‘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.’ 

At a moment when many people may still be reluctant to go inside public buildings to look at art, outdoor exhibitions play an important part in furnishing the inspiration which visual art provides to our collective imaginations and civic life. The original portrait images will also be presented in a digital exhibition, accompanied by statements directly from the artists and short texts on their artistic work.

Janette Parris, ‘Café Spice’, 2020, digital drawing. Copyright the artist, 2020

The artists selected to contribute to Everyday Heroes have been chosen for their ability to produce ‘deeply imaginative, vivid, atmospheric, and visually compelling portraits.’ The installation aims to highlight a range of inventive approaches to image-making that can capture salient aspects of this moment that lie outside the reach of photographic journalism. 

In many cases the portraits result from close personal connections. Barbara Walker, for example, is including a portrait of her daughter who works as a nurse, while 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 from her own personal experience of the pandemic. Multiple slam-winning poet Vanessa Kirsuule – Bristol’s City Poet – will write from her perspective, fresh from her poem on the toppling of Colston’s statue going viral. Recent winner of both the T.S. Eliot and Ondaatje Prizes, Roger Robinson contributes an ode to nurses, and the ways that they bear witness to all aspects of our lives.

Elaine Bedell, Chief Executive of the Southbank Centre, is pleased to breathe life back into the site for the first time since the 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.’

Participating artists 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.

The artist portraits are curated by Cedar Lewisohn, Site Curator, Southbank Centre and Ralph Rugoff, Director, Hayward Gallery and the poetry commissions by Southbank Centre’s Head of Literature and Spoken Word, Ted Hodgkinson.

For more information, visit the Southbank Centre here and the Everyday Heroes website page here.

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