What To Do When ‘The Mother Country’ Wants To Send You Back On The Windrush: Navigating The Hostile Environment of Brexit Britain

ART

‘In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” ― Enoch Powell, River’s of Blood’ Speech, Birmingham 1968

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.

 

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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-LodgeWhy 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…

If you are interested in buying any of my work please click on this link https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/THEHONEYEFFECT . Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think and thank you for reading my blog.

Windrush Poster (LEFTLION) FINAL (540mm x 370mm)

Middle page poster of the June 2018 Issue of Leftlion Magazine

Windrush god save the queen Poster (LEFTLION) FINAL (540mm x 370mm)

Middle page poster of the June 2018 Issue of Leftlion Magazine

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Front cover of the June 2018 Issue of Leftlion Magazine

 

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‘The Art of Afrotherapy’: Decolonising Beauty via Black Girl Magic at University

ART, IMAGE ACTIVISM, WORKSHOPS

“You can’t help it. An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”― Nina Simone

The Psychology department of Nottingham Trent University in Nottingham U.K. were looking for a creative that they could collaborate with on the topic of black women and their black hair to produce an event. One of the reasons that I was recommended to them because of this…

Contemporary Natural Hair by the Pickyheads:

CNHG 1 LOG2 PICKYHEADS
Contemporary Natural Hair by the Pickyheads is a facebook group/blog that I initially created in order to counteract the sheer lack of contemporary representation of  black beauty. Another reason why I created the group is that I wanted to re-brainwash myself into loving myself aesthetically eg. my natural afro hair texture and skin tone. Very quickly as I started to unearth more information about history, race theory, black feminism, visual sociology and ethnography and injected this into the group. I started to garner attention from people of African descent throughout the world. Im not saying Im famous by any stretch of the imagination but a friend of mine that lived in Belgium was told about my group by a Black Dutch woman who was gushing about it and my friend soon realised

‘but thats my friend Honey!!!?!!!’

I realised that the group could be used as a tool to

‘Dismantle racism, white supremacy, colourism and misogynoir, using all forms of artistic expression within contemporary culture. All with the emphasis of bigging up skin tones, hair textures, hairstyles of african heritage in order to decolonise beauty’

The Event: The Exhibition

I was asked by psychology department of Trent University and Esther Akanya Educational Developer (Success For All- Social Sciences) Centre for Academic Development & Quality at Nottingham Trent University to come up with an idea for an event that would link psychology to black hair. So I came up with the idea of creating an exhibition and a workshop called ‘The Art of Afrotherapy’: Decolonising beauty through art afro textured discussion.

AFROTHERAPY FLYER

Creating artwork with 0 funds is tricky especially when you’re covering a topic that is arguably a part of the reason why you have 0 funds #irony – but that is another blog post. I have used my years of experiencing the slow poison of the intersectionality between anti-black misogyny, fatphobia and hair texture discrimination and how that effects every facet of life eg. employment, relationships, social media.  I also wanted to enthuse a sense of self care practised through creating art, music and also through facebook blogging, providing a space for a small part of a huge community of beautiful black women and images and links that centre our us, a reconnection with nature and black culture into my art.

I wanted a part of the exhibition to be immersive and so I invited the university to write their thoughts about black women, black women’s hair, the exhibition, and here are some of my favourite comments and images from the exhibition:

  • ‘Our rich and saturated melanin! it indeed pops severely and they be MADD!’
  • ‘Colourism is colonisation’
  • ‘Dont Touch My Hair’
  • ‘Black = beauty’
  • ‘People who complain about my hair in their face while dancing, Bitch you just been blessed :-)’

I started with creating my art and in a short space of time I had created a collection of pieces that were about decolonising beauty plus the colonising minds and express. Started with creating some new pieces of art on a shoestring and collecting older pieces that tied in with the theme of the exhibition.

I wanted my work to feature womanity of african descent, the different skin tones and natural hair textures, I wanted to communicate a sense of vulnerability, endurance and the beauty within that.

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The Event: The Workshop

In the U.K. and throughout the western world we are forced to conform to ideals of beauty and femininity that are racist white supremacist, patriarchal and anti-black.So in turn the afro textured natural hair that naturally grows from black people’s heads is often deemed unkempt, dirty, un-marriable, undateable, unemployable, rebellious, masculine and ugly. As opposed to men, it is still largely socially unacceptable for women not to have hair I’ve often wondered what effect this is having on women of African descent as it is seldom measured, analysed, unpacked and discussed not even nearly enough in the UK, especially outside London. Coupled with the fact that many black women are often culturally socialised to be self sacrificial and are often expected to hold families, churches and communities together often resulting in a degree self neglect but this level of self sacrifice it is not reciprocated. I have often wondered what effect does this have on the psyche and wellbeing of women of african descent in the uk?

presentation Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 21.51.52

There is a sizable population of women of African Caribbean descent that were born in Nottingham (largely of Jamaican descent and West African descent). Nottingham’s boasts 2 prestigious University’s both Nottingham University and of course Nottingham Trent University, both attract students from all over the globe. I wanted to to provide a space  within Nottingham Trent University that would act as a place for black women and others to vent their views on the topic of black hair, beauty and how it feels to be a black woman in the uk as there is catharsis in airing this topic usually hidden in plain sight.

I created a presentation that aided the discussion, culminating in sharing examples of black girl magic enthused artistic expressions of self care such as recording artists: Solange’s song ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’, Jamila Wood’s ‘Holy’, Soul II Souls’s ‘Back to Life’ and powerful imagery of intoxicatingly beautiful natural haired fashionistas from the Afropunk Festival based in Brooklyn NY but now worldwide. Resulting in a brilliantly  nourishing, amusing, intimate and enlightening conversation. The changes that I would make to the workshop are that Id make it much more art based as I feel that there is a toxic amount of subliminal emotion tightly compacted and stored away within the intersectionality between British politeness, patriarchy and misogynoir… still to be unpacked.