Vilified on their arrival, excluded from the country they rebuilt and now celebrated for their determination, the Windrush generation, its descendants and their collective experiences speak louder than ever through a mural exhibition.
The exhibition was unveiled at the Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA) late August to much fanfare. Six artists are responsible for the works: Rosemarie Chung, Tiana Anglin, Sheldon Blake, Jamila Cooper, Honey Williams and Kirk Coburn.
Moving murals: A travelling showcase
Unlike other collections, the Windrush exhibition is a travelling showcase – which will spend two months in various sections of the Arrivals and Departure lobbies before being unveiled elsewhere across the island.
The project, a collaborative effort by the Ministry of Culture and the British Council, conveys the everyday struggles faced by Jamaican men and women who left their homeland at the height of the Windrush movement between the late 1940s and 1970s.
The exhibition is a powerful, poignant collection of abstract symbolism; sometimes contemporary or representational, but always thought-provoking art.
Grange: ‘Despite the setbacks, Jamaicans persevered’
During her speech, Minister Olivia Grange noted that the Windrush exhibition stands as a celebration of Jamaican triumph and survival – despite the incredible challenges faced in a country far from home in post-WWII Britain.
The 14-piece mural collection tells the narrative from a Jamaican perspective, both for those who left as well as for those who stayed behind.
“We honour the Windrush generation for their resilience and determination as they stepped out into uncharted waters. We salute the Windrush generation for their indomitable spirit; the decision to leave their families to travel to an unknown land,” the minister explained.
“Like their ancestors before them, they were not daunted by the challenges, from the climactic shock of cold, rainy England to the prejudices and discomforts of settling in a new and often unwelcoming environment. Being alone in a strange land of reluctant neighbours, our people experienced every challenge in the book of ignorance and racism,” Grange noted.
For his part, British High Commissioner to Jamaica Asif Ahmad said that while the exhibition won’t undo the damage done to the Windrush generation, he hopes it will continue the conversation as to why their contribution to the redevelopment of England is unmatched.
“We, through the British Government, bequeath and entrust this wonderful art to you. Preserve it. Show it for generations to come. The name ‘Windrush’ evokes a lot of emotions but it is something that we will cherish. The suffering will not be forgotten. Some of it will be paid for in cash but money can never replace the hurt and pain that was caused,” High Commissioner Ahmad remarked.
“But I hope, as people make journeys to the future, we will shape a different future where the journeys that began out of Africa came here and we’ll hear the voice of the Windrush generation for generations,” he further argued.
Through the eyes of the artists themselves
For Studio 174 founder ‘Rozi’ Chung, the motivation behind the pieces really speak for themselves, and quite loudly, too…
Chung told BUZZ that aside from music, for which the island is renowned worldwide, she and her fellow artists wanted to capture a more profound, vulnerable side to our people and our experiences.
“We could connect to the emotional side of living in Jamaica. We wanted to show that deeper side of us through the visual arts,” Rozi Chung said.
“There is this side in Jamaica that we don’t talk about. What about the side of leaving family behind? The Windrush story goes on…people are having it very difficult as we speak. Our Jamaican people, they were young, they were willing, they came to build back England and they were very proud of this,” Chung told BUZZ.
“All the works have symbolic references. We want you to search, think a little bit and try to take the image and explore our culture,” she further asserted.
BUZZ was told that the theme was based on true Windrush accounts as the art focuses on past, present and future in a Jamaican context.
For Tiana Anglin, the idea of re-telling Jamaican experiences on such a platform is good, especially for some Jamaicans who may have heard about Windrush but not be able to connect with the struggles.
“It’s interesting because a lot of the stories we hear about Windrush are written documents or documentaries and we hear people telling these stories, but you don’t often get to see the visual part of it. It’s that we get a chance [now] to show our perspective through our craft,” she told the BUZZ team.
Master painter and poet Sheldon Blake shared a similar sentiment when he spoke to BUZZ – noting that Jamaicans have an innate gift to persevere, regardless of the incredible odds we’re sometimes faced with.
“There’s an amazing strength within us to survive and as an artist, I wanted to capture that essence. I want Jamaicans to take from my work that it is important to know self; to know who you are and where you’re from,” Blake told BUZZ.
Understandably, while there was much hurt for Jamaicans and other Caribbean nationals who migrated to rebuild a country in ruin, the Windrush exhibition also captures hope and the inextinguishable pride as West Indians, wherever we go.
“I want Jamaicans to feel good that we are explaining our history from a Jamaican point of view rather than reading it from someone else from a different country,” Rosemarie Chung told BUZZ.
“For Jamaica to deal with history in this contemporary manner, we’re doing great by moving in that direction and we’d like to see more of that: the art being used to tell our stories,” she added.