The HMT Empire Windrush arrived in the UK 75 years ago and started the migration wave known as the Windrush generation.
The New Art Exchange (NAE) in Hyson Green Nottingham is marking the anniversary with an exhibition, A Black Diaspora Heritage Showcase.
The exhibition doesn’t just focus on the Windrush generation, including contributions of people with different heritages.
Robert Stephens, 56, neighbourhood producer at the NAE says it’s important to mark the event to remember those that arrived before they pass on.
“It’s the 75th anniversary of those who came to the UK. And, 75 years later, not a lot of them are here, they’ve passed on or gone back home. So the 75th year is a bit of a celebration to capture that before they all disappear,” he says.
Four artists from different cultures contributed, Dr Panya Banjoko, Laura Decorum, Paula Pontes and Kim Thompson.
They were chosen not just because of their heritage, but because of their local connection to Nottingham, and that the NAE wants to help them get showcased in other galleries.
“The NAE is part of a multicultural area. So we always want artists to be from the global ethnic minority,” Robert says.
While some of the artists from this community do get into other galleries, most of the time they go for the best artists from abroad and forget local talent.
“What we want to do here is show you that we’ve got local talent on our doorstep. All we need to do is go and look for them,” he adds.
Paula Fontas, one of the artists, grew up during the Angolan Civil War has created several plates and ceramics.
The threes on the vases refer to the wise monkeys, says Robert.
“It’s pertinent to her because the three represents the three wise monkeys, hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.
“Her version is, if you see something, say it, if you hear something, talk about it. Instead of hiding it, let everything out and say what it is. Things are hidden and they shouldn’t be,” he adds.
Another artist in the exhibition, Kim Thompson, created portraits of how the Windrush generation would have dressed when they arrived in the UK.
“Everybody dressed in their Sunday best, looking organised and tidy,” Robert says.
It highlights some of the work that the Windrush generation have done, such as working at the steelworks, the bike factory or in the NHS.
Laura Decorum is another artist featured, originally from London and Oxfordshire before moving to Nottingham.
While the artwork wasn’t typical, she captured what she felt with vibrant colours in a contemporary art style.
“In some of these pictures, you can see more than one face. That’s because she’s got experiences of being in different communities. In some of the faces, there are people from different cultural backgrounds,” Robert says.
“That’s what she sees around here that she lives in this multicultural area, probably speaking a few different languages. And this has been captured in the paintings here,” he adds.
Laura says she was inspired to create these pieces by events happening at the time.
“George Floyd had passed away, the pandemic was happening, BLM rallies too, Marcus Rashford and the England team had suffered a substantial amount of racism on the football pitch.
“I was bubbling with anger for all of it and had a lot of feelings that simply needed to go somewhere,” she says.
The final artist included is Dr Panya Banjoko, who has a PhD in Black Cultural History from Nottingham Trent University. She hasn’t created a traditional piece of art of the exhibition but is a founding member of the Nottingham Black Archives.
She has displayed pictures of people who came from the Caribbean as part of the Windrush generation to capture their life stories, and has preserved letters to the council and government, and interviews, so people can see what was happening in the 1960s.
‘a lot of younger people don’t know this history’
“It’s just about coming into this section and looking at the past and giving some reflection to see if we’ve progressed as a society in any form,” says Robert.
“It presents a collection of art stories, conversations around the wider black diaspora, the connection it has amongst its diversity,” he adds.
The exhibition, through presenting this collection of art, is an opportunity to connect with stories from the past and remembering forgotten stories and history from across the wider black diaspora.
Robert says it’s important for the NAE to showcase this.
“We feel as there’s a lot of younger people who don’t actually know this history,” he says.
Dr Matthew Mokhefi-Ashton, a principal lecturer in social and political sciences at Nottingham Trent University, says that universities should be doing more to teach their students about Windrush.
“The history of Windrush could be integrated into a range of courses, not just history degrees. It should be taught on all social science and humanities degrees, but also others as well.”
The NAE exhibition runs until July 15.