I don’t normally like explaining my art process, as it can differ according to my mood and the topic of my work. I prefer to leave it open to interpretation but I’ll attempt to just this once. I was asked by Nottingham based magazine Leftlion to create a front cover and middle page poster for their June 2018 Issue. For a while I was wondering what imagery should I create for this cover? I needed to embark on a journey in search of fresh inspiration.
Leftlion Editor, Bridie Squires, sent over a list of some of the featured articles, notably black British poetry legend and activist Benjamin Zephaniah, an article on Female Genital Mutilation featuring Valentine Nkoyo, a feature on artist Jasmin Issaka, Human Rights Lawyer Usha Sood, activist and Jamaican WW2 veteran Oswald George Powe and a play by a local Nottingham playwright Mufaro Makubika called ‘Shebeen‘ about the 1958 race-riots in Nottingham. All of which made for a very culturally important edition of Leftlion. Now, I see myself as being relatively deep, I knew that I wanted to say something colossal and powerful with my art… but what?
Then the news of the Windrush Scandal hit, basically the UK government have been steadily kicking out Caribbean’s who immigrated to the UK in 1948-1971 (of whom were deemed them British Citizens according to the Nationality act of 1948). For more info on the Windrush see link What is the Windrush scandal? How the Windrush generation got their name and why many fear deportation by Ann Stenhouse
My blood boiled after seeing Prime Minister Theresa May and Former MP Amber Rudd’s faces in Parliament drowning over facts, figures, tepid apologies, and pathetic last minute attempts to save political careers. David Lammy MP delivered a brilliantly emotive, soulful, parliament shaking speech and after hearing a tsunami of stories of deportation being reported in the national press and not only in black newspapers such as The Voice, Gleaner or as merely word of mouth amongst PoC communities. I decided that I was going to channel the nauseous concoction of pride and disgust I was feeling into creating a collection of pieces of illustration inspired by the Windrush Scandal.
The Windrush Generation, Navigating Britain, How to Convey Them Visually
Excited fearfulness, queasy vulnerability, disappointedly chilly, a seasick loneliness, a war torn run down realisation, relieved to be safely on dry land, eyes searching for familiar faces. I have gathered info from the Windrush generation, those that I know personally and have researched in interviews. Above are a few of the emotions that would have been running through the youthful minds of people first stepping foot off the ship Empire Windrush in England, ‘fresh off the boat’.
I decided to base my illustration on a freeze frame taken from footage shot by the BBC of the literal moment that a young black Jamaican man had first laid eyes on England (see slideshow above). He’s a young dark skinned black man, smartly dressed in a trilby, pinstripe suit and bowtie. Though in slight wonderment you can see that he is hopeful.
My parents are a part of the Windrush generation, they came from middle class backgrounds in Jamaica, my dad arrived in 1958, as a detective in Jamaica he was only able to be a Traffic Warden and Bus Driver in the uk. Likewise my mother arrived in 1962 as a teacher and had to start off working in a factory, but why?
Which brings me to what has to be one of the single most cruel plot twists for Caribbean British citizen’s in post WW2 British legislation. My parents had always drilled into me that ‘Education is key’ and that I have to work at least twice as hard as my white counterparts. I later learned why they were so adamant. The British government ran Jamaica’s education system but even so; Britain disallowed by law all the qualifications of Caribbean British citizens (down to age 11). The effect was that it acted to ghettoize; you cannot have access to higher paid jobs, which would afford you better places to live. Even though on average middle-class and many working class Caribbean’s knew a lot more about stuff like… ‘the Queen, Buckingham palace, William the Conqueror, Shakespeare, Sheffield Steel, Clive of India, The Brontës, David Livingstone and how he ‘civilised the savage’ in Africa, industrial revolution’ etc more than your average white working class Brit. To convey this element in my art, I created conflict within each image in terms of their mood. The imagery I created is deliberately jam-packed with contradictory information that my parents and other Caribbean’s had to navigate and survive under.
“White privilege is an absence of the consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost.” ― Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race
Channelling The Caribbean Perception of Post War Working Class White Britain & My Feelings on The Windrush Scandal
‘We were taught that the streets were paved with gold and that most white people were rich ’. Caribbean’s were generally taught whitewashed version of history, religion and a blind allegiance to British nationalism. All of this was a effective tool to insure that many Caribbean’s would
- well behaved
- subscribe to conservatism, meritocracy, respectability politics
- aspire to be like white people
Be non-critical thinking servants at Britain’s beck and call, that would be compelled to come running just like the ‘good old days of Empire and slavery’. Then could be disposed off as the Britain Government and white ruling class saw fit. Though many did not adhere to all of the above and fought against the indoctrination by re-educating, decolonising and rebelling in a myriad of ways. I conveyed the clashing views of the Black British Caribbean self under the narcissistic paternal rule of Britain by using dissonant imagery, such as religious iconography, 19th century etchings of the torture of slaves calling for abolition, photography of Caribbean’s toiling in plantations, Caribbean war veterans both men and women, BlackLivesMatter protests of Nottingham, Nottingham Riots of 1958, interracial couples, the permanent influence of Jamaican culture on popular British culture and the English language, Caribbean nurses, Brexit scaremongering and racist signs.
I incorporated the beauty of paradise, sunsets, palm trees, houses with red tin roofs into my art. I wanted it to represent rose tinted memories of belonging, innocence, the memory of being a part of an ethnic majority and the confidence in ones stride that brings. A saturated use of colour was used to convey paradise and to appear diametrically opposite to the overcast aesthetics of Britain. I tried to convey that Caribbean people comment that they were shocked to find that in reality they found Britain to be smoky grey, old, dirty, dank, shoddy, ignorant, unhygienic, depressing and hostile.
Caribbean’s and notably Jamaicans were instantly deemed as troublemakers, criminal, smelly, ugly, noisy and inferior in every way. ‘No, Blacks’ was a regular sign that would be seen in most accommodation available for rent and in places of employment. Most white churches would ask Caribbean’s not to return in a most polite and very British fashion. Many Caribbean people would have to defend themselves from attackers, which helped fuel riots and protests for basic human rights in Britain. I chose to represent these elements by incorporating real newspaper headlines and riot photography slashed into the imagery.
Black British Caribbean women have arguably been the anchor of the Black British families and community, a much needed ‘big up’, acknowledgement and appreciation of the beauty and strength of those women. Hence my depiction of the black caribbean woman as queen, plus I wanted to convey the 2 figures as ‘the Adam & Eve’ of the biggest influx of Black people in Britain since its creation.
Scandal is the word for this malicious act of the British government effectively wanting to get rid of the Windrush Generation now they 50+ and their children and in some cases grandchildren, after all of our great sacrifice, great contributions to Britain I wanted this art to be a visual smack in the face, machete chops and cuss words in visual patois, a beautiful explosion of consciousness.
‘If you are the a big tree, we are the small axe, sharpened to cut you down, ready to cut you down’ – Bob Marley & The Wailers
As big black women of Jamaican descent taking up room in the uk in any sense can be treacherous, often greeted with backlash; be it via my art on the cover of a magazine, singing self penned songs, navigating unemployment, voicing my opinion or merely walking down the street. I have personally have never felt a part of Britain and the recent scandal comes as no surprise to me, is it any wonder why? Most black Caribbean’s seldom talk about the moment they encountered England for the first time. I hope my art can act as a mouthpiece for their feelings, mine and for those no longer with us
The beautiful struggle continues…
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