Windrush Generation Black and White Photo

Research - The Windrush Generation & The Caribbean

The idea for my graduate collection came after visiting a photography exhibition at the Tate Britain in 2017, ‘Stan Firm Inna Inglan: Black Diaspora in London 1960s-70s’. The exhibition brought together the work of eight photographers who explored and documented the lives of black communities in London. Highlighting the lives and experiences of those who had travelled to England from the Caribbean and West Africa to live in London.

Before visiting this exhibition, I was really struggling with what to focus on for my graduate collection. I wanted to do something personal to me that also inspired some interested textiles and colours, because I enjoyed designing in these parameters. Once I saw the exhibition, I knew I wanted to explore the lives of these communities further. But, to make it more personal to me, I decided to focus on the life of my Grandad who came to the UK in the 1950s during a period that has since become known as ‘The Windrush Generation’ - named after the Empire Windrush cruise ship that arrived to England in June 1948 carrying the first large wave of Caribbean individuals to the UK.

My research included studying the photographs that I saw in the Tate Britain, mixed with family photographs of my Grandparents with their siblings and friends. As I was researching in the context of creating a fashion collection, I was very interested in looking at the clothing and fashion that they were wearing in the photographs. Paying attention to the types of garments and silhouettes. I was particularly interested in the clothing worn in the 1970s, which then translated into denim flares, pleated skirts and floral patterns that can be found in the final collection.

The front cover of  Michael McMillan's book, The Front Room: Migrant Aesthetics in the Home

This research also led me to find the book ‘The Front Room: Migrant Aesthetics in the Home’ by Michael McMillan. In the book, McMillan explores The West Indian Front Room in the UK and experience of growing up during the 1960s and 1970s in a Caribbean family in the UK. This gave me more of an insight of the Windrush Generation experience. One of the features of the West Indian front room that I found was palm and straw souvenirs and wall hangings from the Caribbean. Usually embroidered with floral patterns, and the name of the particular island the souvenir was from, this was something that I recognised from my own childhood too. This inspired the raffia embroidery that is found throughout the entire collection and in my work now.

Once I had the silhouettes and garment shapes down, and a reference for textiles development, I needed visual references that inspired colour and embroidery motifs for the collection. I then decided to research a bit more into the Caribbean - where the Windrush Generation had travelled from. I researched into the natural fauna and flora of the Caribbean islands which served as beautiful and bright images, a stark contrast to the grey photographs I had first found in the Tate. I then found a book, ‘Caribbean Style’ by Suzanne Slesin filled with images of houses, gardens and landscapes found in the Caribbean region. This inspired the colours and patterns found in my collection.

The culmination of all this research, as well as interviewing members of my family about their individual experiences, helped me in creating my final graduate collection and still acts as inspiration for the accessories and products that I design now!

RESOURCES

If you’re interested in learning more about The Windrush Generation, Black British History or the Caribbean region in general, I’ve listed a few great resources below. I’m always interested in learning more, so if you have any additional resources that you know of that I have missed, please email me (hello@tiharasmith.com)!

Books

  • ‘Caribbean Style’ by Suzanne Slesin
  • ’The Front Room: Migrant Aesthetics in the Home’ by Michael McMillan
  • ’Black Style’ by Carol Tulloch
  • ’Black Britain’ by Paul Gilroy
  • ’Black and British: A Forgotten History’ by David Olusoga
  • ’Small Island’ by Andrea Levy
  • ’The Lonely Londoners’ by Sam Selvon
  • ’Black Poppies’ by Stephen Bourne
  • ’Mother Country: Real Stories of the Windrush Children’ by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff
  • ’War To Windrush’ by Stephen Bourne
  • ’Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain’ by Peter Fryer

Film & Television

  • ‘Back in Time for Brixton’ - BBC (2016)
  • ’Wild Caribbean’ - BBC (2007)
  • ’The Unwanted: The Secret Windrush Files’ - BBC (2019)
  • ’Windrush’ - BBC (1998)
  • ’Caribbean with Simon Reeve’ - BBC (2015)
  • ’Lenny Henry: The Commonwealth Kid’ - BBC (2018)
  • ’Who Do You Think You Are’ Season 16 Episode 2 Naomie Harris - BBC (2019)
  • ’Black Hollywood: They’ve Gotta Have Us’ - BBC & Available on Netflix (2018)
  • ’Black and British: A Forgotten History’ - BBC (2016)
  • ’Black is the New Black’ - BBC (2016)
  • ’Will Britain Ever Have a Black Prime Minister?’ - BBC (2016)

Places

  • Black Cultural Archives - 1 Windrush Square, London, Brixton SW2 1EF
  • The National Archives - Bessant Dr, Kew, Richmond TW9 4DU
  • George Padmore Institute - 76 Stroud Green Road, Finsbury Park, London N4 3EN
  • The British Library - 96 Euston Rd, London NW1 2DB