Windrush: heartwarming images of a generation 70 years on.

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Picture: 'FOR THE MOTHER COUNTRY': GILBERT CLARK,
‘For the Mother Country’: Gilbert Clark, Jim Grove from windrushportraitofageneration.com

England was devastated after the WWII and was in dire need of labour to take part in the reconstruction effort. It naturally turned to what was still, back then, its colonies. On June 22nd, 1948, the “Empire Windrush” docked at Tilbury in Essex. There were 492 West Indians on board. They were the firsts of an estimated 250,000 West Indians (men, women, children) who settled in England between 1948 and 1961. In a nutshell, that is the big story and its statistics.

Behind the big story and the numbers, are real people who have made England their home for the past 70 years. The exhibition “Windrush: Portrait of a Generation” brings alive some of the faces behind the story. It opens with a portrait of Alford Gardner, one of the 492 who has now settled in Leeds. The photography exhibition then unfolds around 11 themes, each one a visual account of the distinctive traditions that the close-knit community of West Indians in London have retained.

Picture Dominoes by Jim Grover, Windrush: Portrait of a generation
Dominoes, Jim Grover, from windrushportraitofageneration.com

For the past year, documentary photographer Jim Grover has captured images of the joyful and sad moments that form the rhythm of life for this close-knit community in London: men at their Domino Clubs, women at the Stockwell Good Neighbours. He gives an honest account of Nine Nights, a typical Jamaican wake and later a funeral. Elsewhere, his intimate images recount a life of deep faith and a typical Friday at home with Hermine Grocia. It is “Open House” and members of her family, stretching four generations, visit her. She is photographed as one of her 11 grandchildren is plaiting her hair.

Picture Family by Jim Grover from windrushportraitofageneration.com
Family, Jim Grover from windrushportraitofageneration.com

With the 70th anniversary of Windrush fast approaching we will, and rightly so, go back to the big story. The way the culture of this first generation of migrants has slowly intertwined with the fabric of England’s society and turned it into the modern multicultural country we know today. But for now, the exhibition is an immersion into the individual stories. It is a visual account of lives that are near their sunset and that could soon fade along with some of their unique customs. It is a heart-warming exhibition that puts into perspective what has become of this first generation of Caribbean migrants after 70 years. Away from the political controversies, this is a reminder that immigration is first and foremost a set of multiple human stories.

Windrush: Portrait of a generation’ at Oxo Tower until June 10th.

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