22 June 2018 - Max article 03: acknowledgement - my Windrush Generation tale of a little love and much gratitude
I am white, anglo-saxon (allegedly)... and today I shall be in Windrush Square, Brixton.
When my wife passed away in August 2017 after a lengthy 19-year skirmish with kidney cancer, I resolved to revisited a digital project that I had first conceived in late 2014. Conscious of her wider interest in black diaspora and resultant issues thereof, I sought an outlet to suitably mirror her broader agenda. Alice had a heart for all and I naturally wanted to find a meaningful response which reflected the bigger picture. Essentially, connectivity in a much wider context with a positive message for all. Her parents came to these shores from the Caribbean in the late 1950’s and for that, I thank God. During our wonderful 23 soul-mate years, my life was transformed daily by her beautiful, playful spirit. She was a natural conduit for cultural awareness, from teacher to museum educator. Alice was my anchor. A strong, independent woman who soaked-up London urbanity, yet remained constantly mindful of her rich St Lucian heritage. Privately it is impossible to replace someone like Alice, but failure to acknowledge the impact of lives such as hers would be to ignore the powerful legacy of migration permeating subsequent generations.
The stern anchor of the Empire Windrush has been on my radar for three years. An anchor screams symbolism and there’s little else which signifies permanence, attachment and hope in such a way. Foundation, stability, strength, etc. are all to be found in dictionary definitions, which abundantly reflect desirable characteristic values for all social groupings and indeed, humanity. Moved by Hannah Lowe’s 2016 ‘Writing the Empire Windrush’ in which she makes strong reference to chronicled media coverage material as ‘Windrush metonym’, a Holy Grail of tangibility came into my view. Hannah noted how “…Windrush history continues to be repackaged in all kinds of ways”. That particular, almost apologetic line resonated with me and I vowed that any creative response I could muster should cut through time-locked grainy pictures and audio-visual content. I cannot thank Hannah enough for inspiring me to pursue a greater quarry. With new-found sense of purpose, by January 2018 research and curiosity had gotten the better of me. Tentatively, I wafted my speculative proposal document in the general direction of a kindly officer at Historic England.
Essentially, I have requested salvage of the stern anchor from Empire Windrush, with a view to siting it on British soil with slight cosmetic amendment. The fundamental caveat being specification that the white anchor, become black and the chain gradated tonally white to black… a literal preference I deem essential for the core message of anchored multiculturalism to be fully grasped. The concept being to demonstrate the enormous journey which we have all undertaken. Fast forward to June 2018. I am pleased to report that a reputable maritime archeology organisation has been working very hard in the background over the last six months, conducting detailed research, investigating feasibility and talking to some important people. At this juncture, I remain optimistic that a successful outcome may be achieved. There are barriers to navigate, but general indications are most encouraging.
IF’s and BUT’s
In optimistic mood, I recently released an initial promo video which features the Bovril Wall in Brixton. This is entirely a hypothetical setting. The site is presently home to one great monument of thanksgiving, for servicemen allegiance to the Mother Country. It does however provide the sort of backdrop befitting the message. Were the anchor to be retrieved, it would need a home. Contextual location is key, but either way I’m hopeful the project would find widespread public support. A free heritage asset for the nation, what’s not to like. OK, some costs would be incurred. But these would be relatively small change, when you consider that single oil paintings are regularly ’saved for the nation’, many of which disappear into obscurity. I am reasonably confident that the underlying motive which defines this project would be well received. Early feedback suggests this to be so. Equally, I would expect the moral compass of Westminster to jump onboard and make a similar commitment in respect of any associated annual or biannual maintenance. If the iconic Empire Windrush anchor could find its way here, it should be displayed wall-mounted. That would simulate how it has been viewed upright, in media content since 22 June 1948. Hanna Lowe’s text weighs heavily on me and this would help weld the event itself to an ongoing code of sensitivity for our nation. My expressed wish is for open, public access. It would be criminal to ‘exhibit’ in a sanitised, internal space. Freedom, honesty, acknowledgement, celebration and gratitude require visibility. Permanent visibility.
Britain is undeniably enriched by migration, it is etched daily into our lives. Frankly, we should take every opportunity available to celebrate and give thanks for rendering ‘white-out’ almost obsolete. As such, Black Migration Anchor is a genuine attempt to visualise spirit of hope for all and I unerringly echo the mighty strap-line from the potent 1981 NCMAC poster, “Come what may, we’re here to stay”. The anchor metaphor is appropriate for a maritime nation and though any anchor would suffice, the provenance of THIS anchor carries a guarantee which should not be denied. It surely has no symbolic equal. Stark admissions in respect of the Windrush Generation have recently brought intense focus on Westminster, which now scrambles around in search of politically correct boxes to tick. Events and exhibitions currently heap further pressure on us all, questioning personal comprehension and national accountability regarding our anchored multi-cultural British society. I therefore ask that a tangible Windrush submission be given due consideration, trusting that borderline compunction might prevail. Yes, clearly I am emotionally bound to this project. My wife was a very special person and I have been a very fortunate beneficiary of the finest migratory shoots, but any personal loss must cede to greater global narrative. I have so much for which to be grateful… as do we all. I am not an artist and this is not art, I just happen to think that raising this anchor from murky depths could be a good thing. Its not an anchor for Alice, its not an anchor for the Caribbean community. Whatever your tribe or colour, this is for you. Let’s please not miss this opportunity to remind the world of our duty towards cultural conscience and universal integrity. Over to you, British people.