Everyday Heroes x Mahtab Hussain

Everyday Heroes: Southbank Centre celebrates key workers through a series of outdoor art and poetry commissions


Mahtab Hussain has been working with the Southbank Centre and Hayward Gallery on a public art and poetry project, Everyday Heroes, celebrating the contributions of all the key workers who have kept the country running during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Southbank Centre has commissioned new portraits of key workers and everyday heroes from some of the UK’s leading contemporary artists. Mahtab’s portraits are visually compelling and atmospheric, honouring NHS workers, especially ethnic minority NHS workers, who may have experienced discrimination.

The large scale, 5 metre portraits on the side of the Southbank Centre are part of the outdoor exhibition, accessible to everyone, from 1 September until 7 November.


 Everyday Heroes is a public art and poetry project that celebrates and highlights the invaluable contributions of all those key workers who have kept the country running during the COVID-19 crisis.  

The original portraits the artists produce – whether in the form of paintings, drawings, photographs and texts – will be reproduced as large scale posters and presented in a dynamic display across the Southbank Centre from 1 September to 7 November 2020. The portraits and poems will be spread across prominent places and popular walkways throughout the 11-acre site in a kind of outdoor gallery that is accessible to all for free.  

The Southbank Centre is commissioning new portraits of key workers and everyday heroes from some of the UK’s leading contemporary artists, also including Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller, and rising international stars of painting including Michael Armitage and Ryan Mosley. Alongside these artworks, newly commissioned poems will celebrate and 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. 

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. In addition to the physical installations, 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.  

The artists selected to contribute to Everyday Heroes have been chosen because of their ability to produce deeply imaginative, vivid, atmospheric, and visually compelling portraits.  It 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.  



Ralph Rugoff, Director of the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, said:

This extraordinary period in our history demands that arts organisations find new ways of responding to the moment and bringing art to the public. 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.” 


Elaine Bedell, Chief Executive of the Southbank Centre, said:

I’m so pleased that we’re now able to breathe some artistic life back onto our site for the first time since our 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.” 


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.  



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