The Southbank Centre is one of my favourite places in London. I first came across it many moons ago when visiting the capital with my brother and was astounded that there were dozens of typewriters on display, ready and waiting for members of the public to tap out messages, poems or love letters. It was immersive and interactive and not at all stale and stuffy like so many museums I'd been in before.
Since moving to London, the Southbank has been a frequent haunt of mine, so much so that I'll have to dedicate a whole post to it one day! It's right next to Waterloo station - my local - so I'm constantly forsaking dinner in exchange for the delicious street food they so often have set up in a little market round the back. Recently, Southbank hosted their annual festival 'Alchemy' - a celebration of dance, art, culture, food and design from the UK and South Asia. I'd heard tales of an Asian street food market and was down there quicker than you could say 'chapati'.
The area around the back of Festival Hall was awash with sound, colour and delicious smells. I think I ate three dinners. I do not regret this in the slightest! Chickpeas, spices and Indian crepes were washed down with fresh coconut water and a white chocolate and raspberry samosas. Who knew samosas could be sweet? I was served my strange pudding by a lovely girl whose Mum was in the back rolling out more dough. There was a real sense of community and celebration rippling around the Southbank - people excited to share their heritage and others excited to experience it.
Inside, we crept around the back of a large crowd watching a complex and highly intricate performance that combined huge, colourful costumes and singers with ridiculous lung capacities - I swear I didn't hear them draw breath once. Downstairs, the 'Adopting Britain' exhibition was less crowded, but we could still hear the echo of hand symbols verberating through the air. Before we went in, we had a quick attempt at trying to 'sync' our heartbeats (hold your hand against a giant flower stem and your heartbeat sends light shooting upwards, illuminating the petals), without much success... It was good fun though!
Celebrating 70 years of migration, 'Adopting Britain' seeks to explore the history, politics and culture of a country that has slowly morphed into the diverse and cosmopolitan society we experience today. I can honestly say that it's one of the most moving and intriguing exhibitions I have ever experienced. Having only ever lived in Norfolk and Kent (not the most diverse places in England, to say the least), I found it all hugely impactful. Visitors' migration stories papered the walls. Luggage tags encouraged us to think about what it's like to leave everything behind in search of a better life. Televisions played archive footage of the first bi-racial families living in Brixton during the 50's. Questions were asked about identity and what it means to live between two cultures.
As an adult, it's easy to think that we finished our education at school, but it's exhibitions like this that remind me how little I know about a country I've spent my whole life in.
I can't recommend a visit enough - I know a lot of readers have moved to Britain from abroad so I encourage you to visit in order to weave your story into our narrative!
The exhibition is open until September 6th.
Have you been or seen anything a little out of the ordinary recently?