Summer in the City
Summer is underway, and amidst continued uncertainty and mixed messages about travel and holidays, there will be more of us than usual spending it in the big smoke. Don’t fret, there is lots to enjoy. I remember my first London summer, exploring the city above ground, hopping on different buses to parks and lidos, discovering hidden gems - it was fab! This year I'm doing it all again - but better, I get to share it with you! Also remember to check the events page for more details and ideas, and my insta for updates and inspiration.
East is East
I’ll be heading to the Whitechapel Gallery to see Phantom of Surrealism (free entry) and Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy (finishes 29th August). Starting from Liverpool Street Station down Bishopsgate and stopping off for a moment’s reflection in the peaceful walled garden at St Ethelburga's – now a Centre for Reconciliation and Peace – if it’s open, or explore to one of the many spaces and gardens around the ‘city’. The first you get to from the station is St Botolph without Bishopsgate, which is also happens to be the starting point for this year’s Sculpture in the City and the site of Alice Channer’s ‘Burial’ (above).
For an extra bit of history on the way to the gallery, pop by Toynbee Hall (above), which also has a lovely café. It was founded in 1884 by Samuel and Henrietta Barnett – a vicar and a teacher, philanthropist and social activist, respectively. Confronted by the poverty of many East End residents, they organised classes and other activities which eventually led them to founding a social services centre. If you’d like to find out more, time your visit to coincide with the Hall’s permanent exhibition - Toynbee Hall: A Powerhouse of Social Change - open to the public every weekday between 11am and 3pm and on the 3rd Saturday of every month. Toynbee Hall is on the cusp of the ‘City’ and the East End – the unnerving contrast between one of the richest square mile on the planet and the poverty of adjacent areas never ceases to shock me.
A very quick note about Eileen Agar (1899 –1991), prolific British-Argentinian painter and photographer who throughout her seventy-year career synthesised elements of two of the 20th century western culture’s most significant artistic tendencies – Cubism and Surrealism. She explored classical art, ancient mythologies, sexual pleasure and the natural world – with a feminist twist. In Muse of Construction, based on a picture she took of Picasso and where she positions him as the muse, flipping gender roles and stereotypes.
After the exhibitions, walk up Brick Lane's mishmash of Bangladeshi restaurants, vibrant street art (above, Fournier Street) and ‘vintage’ shops - pop into the Brick Lane Bookshop and find out about its fascinating history. From there you have a host of bars, eateries and lots more at your finger tips. You might even be in the mood for a cheeky cocktail at Tonight Josephine, Shoreditch branch.
I LOVE swimming outdoors – so the big pull for this visit is a dip at Kenwood Ladies' Pond on Hampstead Heath or, if you’re after a proper swim, try Parliament Hill Lido. Starting the day with a visit to Highgate cemetery. West first, to see ‘act’ by Phyllida Barlow (finishes 30 August), the stunning architecture as well as visit the Rossetti plot where Elizabeth Siddal (1829 – 1862), English artist, poet and model in the pre-Raphaelite era – including as Millais’ Ophelia - who married to Dante Gabriel Rossetti - is buried with his sister, English poet Christina Rossetti author of Goblin Market and other children's poetry. From there, I'll cross to the East side, for a gentle meander to see if I have any luck locating the resting places of George Elliot (1819 – 1880) formerly known as Mary Ann Evans, who changed her name to avoid the stereotypes associated with women’s writing; Marguerite Antonia Radclyffe Hall (1880 – 1943), English poet and author, who often went by the name John and is best known for the novel The Well of Loneliness, a ground breaking work in lesbian literature; and Catherine Dickens, who in spite of being an author, talented actress and excellent cook, was totally eclipsed by her husband’s fame.
If this doesn’t tickle your fancy, however, you could start at British Library with Khadija Saye: In This Space We Breathe & from there stroll along the canal to Camden, where you can catch the latest exhibition at the Vagina Museum and still make it in time for a quick dip in the pond before catching the sunset on Parliament Hill.
For a more chilled affair, I’m thinking of a picnic in Hyde Park with a long overdue visit to one of my all-time favourites, the Serpentine Galleries - and adjacent lido. There is lots on at the Serpentine day and evening – and it’s free! Particularly, I look forward to Jennifer Packer’s The Eye is not Satisfied with Seeing – Bronx based expressionist painter whose portraits and flower still paintings radiate the emotional and physical essence of the Black lives she depicts. This is her first exhibition outside the US. It features 34 works, including Say Her Name (2017) – a response to the suspicious death of Sandra Bland, the Black American women who suspiciously died in police custody in 2015. (Finishes 22 August)
If you’re not into swimming and/or are feeling energetic head for the V&A – there is always a host of interesting stuff on – but if you’re into Alice in Wonderland or bags – you are in luck! Amy Winehouse fans will love Amy In The Light, a photo exhibition at teh nearby Brownsword Hepworth - also available online.
Arty day out
This summer we are particularly spoilt for art by women with a very strong penchant for subverting and challenging the patriarchy – and white supremacy. It would be a real shame to miss the chance of seeing and being inspired by their work – but also of course, because for many years, they have had to work extra hard to make it into the limelight and gain due recognition. Tate Britain has pulled out all the stops with a long overdue exhibition of Paula Rego – likely one of the most distinctive contemporary artists.
She was born in Portugal but came to the UK when her parents fled the fascist dictatorship. From an early age she had a strong political consciousness – particularly in relation to the injustices experienced by women in highly patriarchal societies. Her work is a powerful mix of visceral humanity, storytelling, fantasy and defiance – with women often the main protagonists.
Many years ago, when I worked for the UK reproductive justice campaign Abortion Rights, I had the enormous pleasure and honour of meeting Paula Rego. She wanted to donate a drawing for auction to support the organisation and invited me to her studio in Camden. I knew fairly little about her then, but it was amazing to join her in her world, such a delightful, powerful and lively figure. We talked about abortion. She told me how she was so angry after the 1998 referendum failed to legalise abortion in Portugal that it inspired her hard-hitting abortion series, where she delves into the issue of backstreet abortion with heart breaking realism and honesty. Her work was used as part of the second, successful, abortion referendum in 2007. Don't miss the opportunity to see her work.
And while you are there, you’ll get a chance experience Heather Phillipson’s haunting Rupture No1: Blowtorching the Bitten Peach and, make sure you leave via the ‘Millbank Entrance’ to see Chila Kumari Burman’s gorgeously adorned rickshaw.
From there the world is your oyster. My preferred option would be to hop on the river bus to the Tate Modern for Sophie Taueber-Arp, because I know absolutely nothing about her, backtrack along the Southbank for an evening aperitif at the Southbank rooftop terrace. There is lots going on at the Southbank - if you are around the area on the weekend of 13th August, you’ll catch the excellent Nubya Garcia’s Summer reunion.
But you may prefer to stroll along the river – if the tide is low, you can actually walk on the Thames beach over to Westminster - it's a nice change of perspective, the view is exquisite. Back at street level, walk through Victoria Tower Gardens South, pay a visit to the suffragettes/-ists, head to Trafalgar Square to see Heather Phillipson’s 4th plinth creation The End – before hitting Soho for a night on the tiles.
Next up for me is an exploration of South London’ feminist haunts, which I am less familiar with … meanwhile, the Textile & Fashion Museum and Dulwich Picture Gallery both have interesting exhibitions. At the latter you will be greeted by artist Sinta Tantra's new mural The Grand Tour.
Have wonderful rest of the summer and hopefully you'll get to enjoy at least some of these delightful experiences. Importantly, stay safe!