The concept of ‘heroes’ is a complex one. In the early months of lockdown, a new, effusive kind of gratitude opened up for what was broadly termed ‘the key workers’ – the delivery drivers, the teachers, the carers, the refuse collectors and the NHS frontline staff – many of whom were forced to carry out their jobs in unsafe conditions so we could hold on to some semblance of normality.
It begs the question, why did it take a crisis like this one to recognise the people our society cannot function without? At the Southbank Centre, just a few of these individuals have had their faces and stories represented in an enormous outdoor exhibition. There are intimate portraits of taxi drivers, shopkeepers, nurses and religious leaders that can be viewed at a distance, on a gigantic scale. Other tributes come in the form of poems and texts that have been blown up on colourful posters placed on the side of the building.
More than 21 artists and writers contributed, some creating artworks about friends or family, others celebrating key workers they encountered during lockdown. In light of the exhibition, we asked a few of the participating artists, ‘who has been your everyday hero during the pandemic, and why?’