Kingston Creative collaborated with the John Hansard Gallery, Black History Month South, and Southampton Black Archives to present an outdoor street art exhibition instead of a traditional gallery setting. As a public art exhibition shown on digital billboards, Windrush Portraits aims to challenge notions around the historically ‘permanent’ and somewhat exclusive nature of visual art, and engage audiences with digital and physical broadcast in public spaces. The first stage of Windrush Portraits took place in February 2023, in Black History Month in the Caribbean, where works by Elliott and Evans were publicly broadcast on iPrint Digital’s network of digital advertising billboards across Jamaica, highlighting the legacy of the Windrush generation and the impact of the migration.
The programme involved the collaboration of two contemporary visual artists, Michael Elliott (Jamaica) and Mary Evans (UK) for a nationwide public art campaign. This project commemorates the Windrush Generation, giving voice to the subsequent Windrush scandal and creating a pathway for the exchange of ideas and experiences on each side of the Atlantic. As Jamaica celebrates Reggae Month in February, it highlights how this generation of Jamaicans carried the culture and the sounds of Jamaica on their transatlantic journey, weaving Dub, Reggae, and Ska into the fabric of UK music, resulting in the birth of modern genres like Grime, 2-step Garage, Dubstep and Drum and Bass.
Both artists undertook exchange visits to Southampton and Kingston in 2023, where they met the original migrant Caribbean communities in Southampton, and visited the National Windrush Museum , met Dr Les Johnson, and interacted with Windrush returnees and researchers, including returning residents, forced returnees, the High Commission staff and UWI academics in Kingston, utilizing this research to inform their new artwork.
Visual Artist Michael Elliott had previously worked on a Windrush series of works, but had not actually visited the UK before being selected by Kingston Creative to participate in this project. “Immersing myself in the Southampton community became an important step in bridging the gap between Jamaica and the UK in my Windrush journey,” Michael Elliot commented. “Especially speaking to the British West Indian community of varying ages and interests. Throughout my days there I have been able to listen to past and current experiences, present my work and garner useful feedback. My travel to the UK has given me even more inspiration for more stories to open up in my painting and to keep the connection between the two hemispheres. It is also an opportunity to challenge myself and to elevate the work into new possibilities that will provoke conversation and help to be a catalyst for change.”
Mary Evans added, “The visits to these places, facilitated by Kingston Creative, were part of a necessary and layered tapestry of research for the project. Immersing myself in a location’s culture, history, language, politics, cuisine and social structures is always important to me when I make work. It’s unlikely that the experiences will literally inform the work, more that the lived experience of the visits will percolate into my thinking and making.”
The next stage of the project took place in October 2023, during Black History month in the UK, where Michael returned to the UK for the launch of the Southampton installation of the new artwork on shop windows around the city. He also spoke as a panelist at the Conference ‘Co-Creating Public Space – How Can We Thrive?’ on October 27, 2023.
Windrush Portraits is now entering its final stage with the broadcast of this new work from both artists on billboards across Jamaica throughout February. The stories of the Windrush generation are being told in Black History Month, and Windrush Portraits hopes to continue to spark conversation around their collective experiences as well as highlight their notable influence on culture.
Windrush Portraits has been supported by iPrint Jamaica and the Rok Hotel Kingston, Jamaica, and the project is part of the programme Co-Creating Public Space, led by John Hansard Gallery, part of the University of Southampton, with funding from Arts Council England, Southampton City Council and GO! Southampton.