Discovering Windrush through the arts
BY: Guest Writer
01 Oct 2018
To celebrate Black History Month, our blog article this week features Isioma Ikediashi, Project Manager at African Community Centre, who tells us about their Bronze Arts Award project inspired by the Windrush generation…
We developed a heritage project where young people could interview and film people from the West Indies, who migrated to and settled in Wales between the 1950s and 1970s. The Windrush generation refers to the people who were invited from Caribbean countries to come and work in the UK due to the labour shortages, following the destruction caused by World War II. The name ‘Windrush’ derives from the ship MV Empire Windrush which docked in 1948 in Essex, bringing around 500 immigrants to the UK.
We wanted our young people to hear their stories, learn from their experiences and document this for the future. We also wanted the project to be engaging for the participants involved so we worked to make sure that it would fit into the Bronze Arts Award framework, enabling everyone involved to gain a nationally recognised qualification.
Our delivery of Bronze Arts Award
For Part A (explore the arts as a participant), young people took part in painting workshops where they explored mixing colours and creating patterns. They also researched the work of a famous Jamaican-born American painter, Tamara Madden, and created pieces inspired by her work. Other participants focused on film making and learned how to use cameras to record interviews and make them into films. These films formed part of the stories we exhibited at the finale event of our Windrush project.
We were invited to National Museum Wales in Cardiff to go on their ‘back of house’ tour for Part B (explore the arts as an audience member), to see how they store their collections. Young people had the opportunity to learn about how the museum obtains and preserves their collections. They were particularly interested in the interpretation of certain items in the collections, especially those from the slave era such as tea, china plates and statues. They found it interesting that many pieces in the collections were taken from other countries and adapted in the UK, yet very little information was known about their origin and story. We noticed that young people had a lot of discussions around these themes and tied it into the Windrush project. They discovered that many immigrants contributed to the development of the UK but were not recognised for their effort.
All of the participants involved in the project chose Tamara Madden as their arts inspiration (Part C), as she had quite similar experiences to the people they had been interviewing as part of the project; a Jamaican born painter who migrated to the US when she was young and built her career there before she passed away in 2017.
Her life experiences in Jamaica had a great influence on her art work, as she used painting to depict ordinary black people as strong, powerful royals. Young people interviewed her via Skype before she died and learnt about her life and the work she had created. As a result, they were now very inspired to tell the stories of the people they interviewed from the Windrush generation in ways that portrayed them as real heroes.
For their arts skills share (Part D), the young people organised presentations in their schools where they shared their experiences and skills in painting and filming with Year 9 pupils. Two of the young people who really enjoyed painting and sketching showed others in the group how to shade using different pencils and how to use your imagination to create shapes.
The young people really enjoyed doing their Arts Award and the framework fitted well with our project, enabling them to achieve a nationally recognised qualification. The project culminated in an amazing booklet, which contains all the interviews the young people carried out describing their experiences and the skills they learnt by participating in the project. Through participating in this Arts Award project, the young people gained a better understanding of what art is – it’s not just about painting and sketching. They expanded their view of what the arts can encompass and learnt a number of new skills that they would never have picked up otherwise.
The biggest impact Arts Award has had on our organisation was learning that merging the arts with a heritage project does work! At first, I struggled to understand how we could enable young people to gain arts skills and experiences through a heritage project but as the project progressed, the link between the two became clearer.
Delivering Arts Award also helped us develop new ways of engaging and working with young people and we intend to expand this in future.
To find out more about African Community Centre’s work, please check out their website.