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Who are the Windrush Generation?

The term 'Windrush Generation' is used to refer to the people who moved to the United Kingdom between 1948 and 1972 from the Caribbean.

After the Second World War, Britain needed to rebuild the country and the economy. But a labour shortage meant there were not enough people to do the jobs that needed doing. So the British government encouraged people from the Caribbean to come to Britain with the promise of work. The 1948 British Nationality Act allowed people from the Commonwealth, which included the Caribbean nations, British Citizenship, and the right to settle in the United Kingdom.

Postcard of 'Empire Windrush' purchased by Winston Levy whilst on board, c.1948

Postcard of 'Empire Windrush' purchased by Winston Levy whilst on board, c.1948

On 22nd June 1948, the HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury Docks in Essex. On the ship were hundreds of passengers from the Caribbean hoping to build a new life in the UK.

The passenger list provides information about the new arrivals, where they came from and the skills they brought with them.

Explore the passenger list

You could task students with looking at the list and analysing:

  • which countries did people come from?
  • what sort of age were they?
  • what were some of the skills and occupations they brought with them?

Basil Watson 'The National Windrush Monument' 2022

22nd June is now a day of celebrating and remembering the contributions of those who arrived on the Empire Windrush and during the next two decades. The date has come to symbolise the start of the wave of Caribbean migration to the UK.

The National Windrush Monument stands in Waterloo Station in London and was commissioned to celebrate the fifth National Windrush Day in June 2022.

The National Windrush Monument

The National Windrush Monument 2022

Basil Watson (b.1958)

Waterloo Station, Lambeth

Activity: explore and discuss the sculpture

Discuss the sculpture as a class using these prompts if helpful:

  • describe the sculpture – who can you see?
  • how are the people dressed? Are these the sort of clothes that people wear today?
  • what are they standing on and what does this tell us about them?
  • what do you think the people are feeling and thinking? (Are there any clues in the sculpture?)
  • what do you think the sculpture is made from?

Tip: click on the image to see more photographs of the sculpture on the artwork page.

About the sculpture

The sculpture shows a smartly dressed family of three standing on a pile of suitcases. Their clothes suggest it is the 1950s or 1960s. The family has arrived from the Caribbean and the suitcases represent the family's belongings and culture – as the artist explains, 'everything they brought with them'.

The figures are all connected physically while they look in different directions. The man looks ahead, possibly planning on where they need to go and what they will do next. The woman holds both the man's hand and that of the little girl she looks around taking in her new surroundings. The little girl holds her mother's skirt and looks back, perhaps reflecting on her journey and the friends she has left behind.

The National Windrush Monument

The National Windrush Monument

Basil Watson (b.1958)

The sculpture is made from bronze. The artist first modeled the group in clay (the texture of the surface shows the marks of the artist's hands and tools). The clay model was then cast in bronze.

We are used to seeing large bronze statues of heroes or of the rich and famous in public places. Although not famous or wealthy, Basil Watson sees the figures in his sculpture as heroes:

'I think they fit very well into the hero category. I look at the heroic aspect of their journey. The courage that it takes. In today's world, we are constantly in touch by social media. I can only imagine leaving home, sailing on the sea for three weeks, going to a place that you only hear about, not connecting with your family for the months at a time that a letter takes. It took a lot of courage to do that. And they all went out, without exception, seeking advancement, with the aspiration to ascend and move forward'.

Leaving… and remembering

Between 1948 and 1972 nearly half a million people left the Caribbean islands and their homes, friends and everything that was familiar to them to travel to a country that they had only read about and seen pictures of.

Discuss as a class what it must be like to leave everything and move to another country.

Untitled; Nine Etchings

Untitled; Nine Etchings 2005

Hurvin Anderson (b.1965)

Government Art Collection

  • What would you miss?
  • What would you bring with you to remind you of home?
  • Can you remember being in a new, unfamiliar place (perhaps your first day in a new school or a visit to the house of people you don't know very well)? What did you feel like?

Teacher notes

You may have students in your class who have moved from other countries to the UK. If appropriate you could invite them to share their experiences of arriving, and what they miss about home. 

Activity suggestion: poem of home

Ask students to imagine that they are leaving home to move to another country.

Task them with writing a poem or short text describing what they will miss about home and their feelings (which may be a combination of sadness, fear and excitement).

You can find more Windrush creative writing activities in this British Library resource:

Windrush stories: creative writing activities

Hurvin Anderson: life between Islands

Identity, community and place are themes explored by artist Hurvin Anderson whose parents moved to the UK in the early 1960s from Jamaica and settled in Handsworth, Birmingham. Anderson was the youngest of eight children and the only one of his siblings to be born in the UK. Growing up he remembers his family talking about the home they had left in Jamaica. For Anderson, the Caribbean became almost mythological – a place of fantasy and escape.

Maracas II (2003) by Anderson appears like a half-remembered view of a landscape. It was inspired by a combination of the faded memories that were shared with him by his family and his own imagination based on his family’s memories. We can see trees, and some figures but there are also blurs and spaces.

Maracas II

Maracas II 2003

Hurvin Anderson (b.1965)

British Council Collection

Discuss the painting with your students.

  • Describe the painting. What can you see in it?
  • What is the atmosphere of the painting? What feelings or emotions does the painting put across?
  • How has Hurvin Anderson used the paint?
  • In the painting, there are spaces as well as details - how does this affect how you see it?

Art and design activity: visualising a remembered place

Task students with creating a drawing or painting inspired by memories and descriptions of a place. As well as developing art and design skills, this activity will support students in practising oral literacy skills.

Preparation

Organise students into pairs. Task each student with thinking about somewhere they have visited. (This could be a holiday, a trip to a different city or the countryside or a local park they enjoy visiting.) Students should write down their thoughts about the place – what it looked like, what they saw there, and how they felt there. Encourage them to think about the details and the atmosphere of the place and how it made them feel. (This could be done before the lesson as a homework exercise.)

Method

In the classroom, ask students to describe their remembered place to their partner. The partner should then develop an artwork using this remembered description. The artwork will be a mix of memory and imagination.

Like Hurvin Anderson, they could make the painting seem mysterious through the way they use materials and marks.

They could include details that are clear and leave spaces or blur elements of the description that they are not sure about.

Look at the activity suggestions in these 'Painting mood and atmosphere' resources for tips and ideas:

Painting mood and atmosphere: Louis Mbughuni
Painting mood and atmosphere: Henry Tayali

Jak Beula's 'NICU Suite 16 (Windrush and Commonwealth NHS Nurses and Midwives Statue)'

This sculpture, by artist Jak Beula, celebrates the contribution of the 40,000 nurses and midwives recruited from commonwealth countries to the NHS between the 1940s and the 1970s. They helped shape and support the new national health service which had been set up in 1946 by the Labour Government to provide free healthcare for all.

The sculpture stands outside the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Whittington Hospital. It looks very different in style from The National Windrush Monument which we looked at earlier.

NICU Suite 16 (Windrush and Commonwealth NHS Nurses and Midwives Statue)

NICU Suite 16 (Windrush and Commonwealth NHS Nurses and Midwives Statue)

Jak Beula (b.1963)

Discuss the sculpture as a class

(Tip: you can see more images of the sculpture on the artwork page.)

  • Describe the sculpture.
  • Is it a realistic depiction of people?
  • What do you think it is made from?
  • Why do you think the artist abstracted the figures?
  • Does it remind you of other sculptures you have seen?
  • Do you think it is a powerful sculpture?

Sculpture thoughts

The sculpture is a stylised or abstracted depiction of a mother and child. It is made from 16 pieces of different stones cut into simple shapes. By creating an abstracted version of a mother and child, the artist suggests that the sculpture isn't a portrait of individuals but was intended as a universal depiction of the care and nurture that the midwives and nurses provided for their patients. (The composition of the sculpture is reminiscent of the pose we often see of Madonna holding the infant Jesus.)

Tam Joseph 'UK School Report' 1984

Tam Joseph came to Britain from Dominica. This triptych is made of three self-portraits illustrating the different ways that he felt Black boys like himself were racially stereotyped in schools.

UK School Report

UK School Report

Tam Joseph (b.1947)

Museums Sheffield

The colours red, white and blue reflect the colours of the Union flag. The blue colour of the third self-portrait perhaps suggests the blue of a surveillance screen.

Discuss the artwork as a class.

  • What does the artwork show?
  • What do you think the message the artist is putting across in the artwork?
  • How has he used image, colour and text to do this?
  • What do you think the colours he has used symbolise: red, white and blue?
  • Do you think the artwork makes a powerful point?

Settling in: home (and the Front Room)

Despite the difficulties they faced, the new immigrants worked hard, saved their earnings, created homes and started families in Britain. Their homes became a sanctuary from the hostilities of the outside world and a place where they could meet friends and family.

When they could afford a house of their own, the front room became a symbol of their new life. It was a place where they could showcase their heritage through objects and souvenirs brought from home, and photographs of loved ones. It was also somewhere they could display with pride the new things they had worked hard for.

Decorative Plaque*

Decorative Plaque* 1950–1995

unknown artist

Hackney Museum

Look around the West Indian living room recreated by Brent Libraries, Arts & Heritage as the focal point for an exhibition exploring the experiences of the Windrush Generation.

You could ask students to discuss what the room looks and feels like. (What are their first impressions of the room? What objects and furnishings can they see? Are there any similarities with their living room at home?)

Activity: memory objects

Task students with thinking about objects in their homes that hold memories. These might be photographs or souvenirs bought on holiday or gifts that remind their family of a person or an event such as a birthday or anniversary.

Ask students to choose one object that is meaningful to them and use this as a starting point for an artwork. What does it remind them of? Why is it special to them?

  • The artwork could be a representation of an event, a place or a person that the object is a reminder of. How might they incorporate these memories into the artwork?
  • Or you could task them with making an artwork that uses the object itself – as Hurvin Anderson has done with his mother's vase. Students could include other images or texts, or use a detail of the object or photograph. How can they use colour, texture and pattern to evoke a sense of what the object means to them?

For inspiration and ideas look at the artworks in this slideshow which explore memory using objects and photographs:

Denzil Forrester: painting music

Artist Denzil Forrester was born in Guyana in 1956 and moved to London in the late 1960s. Many of his paintings are inspired by the music he heard in London. In the 1980s and 1990s, he sketched people dancing at dub and reggae clubs in East London. The movement and music inspired the marks he made.

Look at and discuss Denzil Forrester's painting Witchdoctor (1983) with your students.

  • Describe the painting.
  • What is the atmosphere of the painting? What does it make you think and feel?
  • How has Denzil Forrester used mark making and colour to put across a sense of sound and movement?

Witchdoctor

Witchdoctor 1983

Denzil Forrester (b.1956)

Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre

Writing and poetry

Writers and poets such as Andrea Levy, Claudia Jones, Benjamin Zephaniah, and Linton Kwesi Johnson have given a voice to second-generation Black Britons.

You can find out about their stories and explore their writing in this British Library resource:

Benjamin Zephaniah: Three Poems: Heroes (1998)

Benjamin Zephaniah (b.1958) was born and raised in Handsworth in Birmingham. His father was from Barbados and worked as a postman and his mother was a nurse from Jamaica.

Zephaniah's poetry is influenced by Jamaican music and poetry, as well as politics and activism. Zephaniah has said that he wanted to 'take [his poetry] everywhere' and make sure that people who don't read books could hear it. So he turned his poetry readings into concert-like performances.

Three Poems: Heroes

Three Poems: Heroes

Benjamin Zephaniah (b.1958)

Three poems: Heroes can be read by anyone walking along Rockingham Street in Sheffield. The words of the poems have been laser cut into the window grills of a student hall of residence. The three poems, Mind, Questions and Heroes reflect on the possibilities of life when you're young, the choices you make and how ordinary people can be heroes. The following lines are from the poem Heroes:

'We mere words recognise their possibilities.
We can see that they are all romantics,
Freedom fighters and intellectuals.
These streets are full of heroes.'

Food and flavours

Visit any market in a culturally diverse area and the stalls will be filled with a range of fruit and vegetables that would not have been available in the UK before the 1970s.

Veronica Ryan's Custard Apple (Annonaceae), Breadfruit (Moraceae) and Soursop (Annonaceae)

Located in Hackney in London, Veronica Ryan's 2021 sculpture Custard Apple (Annonaceae), Breadfruit (Moraceae) and Soursop (Annonaceae) is also a tribute to the Windrush Generation. But rather than showing people, it is a depiction of… fruit!

Activity: discuss the sculpture

  • What are your first impressions of the sculpture?
  • What do you think the sculpture shows?
  • Why do you think the artist chose fruit and vegetables to remember the Windrush Generation?
  • What shapes and surfaces can you see?
  • Do you like the sculpture? Do the shapes and surfaces make you want to touch it and climb on it?

About the sculpture

Veronica Ryan was born in Monserrat and moved to the UK with her parents when she was a child. The inspiration for the sculpture came from memories of visiting Ridley Road Market in Hackney with her mother and seeing the tropical fruit and vegetables on market stalls.

In her work, Ryan examines experiences of place, home, memory and loss and references her Afro-Caribbean heritage and upbringing in the UK.

For Ryan, the fruit symbolises bringing people together to share meals and memories of places left behind. The sculpture also celebrates what people from the Caribbean brought with them. Fruit is associated with fertility, growth and potential, suggesting the rich contribution the Windrush Generation and their descendants have made to British life.

Although the fruit is huge and made from materials traditionally associated with public monuments (marble and bronze), Ryan doesn’t see the sculpture as monumental. She sees it as playful and approachable and wants the community to 'own it' – she would like for people to interact with the objects, sit on them and climb on them.

Activity: objects that symbolise and celebrate community

Veronica Ryan has used tropical fruit to celebrate the Windrush Generation, symbolise the contributions they made to British society and culture and represent their memories of the places they left.

Task your students with designing a public sculpture for your city, town or village that uses objects that symbolise your community. They could do this as a class or in small groups.

The sculpture could celebrate the diversity of your community, whether ethnic diversity or the different age groups within your community. Or the sculpture could celebrate the people who worked or still work in a local industry such as fishing, manufacturing, farming... or glove-making!

The Gloved Hands

The Gloved Hands 2012

Geoff Wood

The Yards, Chesterfield, Derbyshire

Preparation

Encourage students to discuss their ideas and plan their sculptures together.

  • Who are they celebrating?
  • How do these people make your local area a rich and vibrant place?
  • Are there any objects that you could use as a symbol to represent this group or community?
  • Where will the sculpture be located?
  • How can you ensure that your sculpture is 'owned' by the community by making it something they can interact with and enjoy? (Could it incorporate a bench, gates, a clock or other elements that might encourage interaction?)

Method

Students should:

  • sketch ideas for their sculpture (they could sketch several different ideas and then decide as a group which is the most successful)
  • annotate their sketch with notes describing: what the sculpture will be made from and how it will be made; its scale; where it will be located; and information relating to how the public will be able to interact with it
  • make a maquette for their sculpture. This could be modelled from plasticine or air-drying clay or constructed using card and craft materials, as appropriate
  • photograph their maquette and use photo editing tools to add an image of their sculpture design to a photograph of its planned location

Explore the activities in these lesson plan resources for sculpture planning and development ideas:

Inspiration

Have a look at more sculptures that celebrate community through objects that symbolise the people that live there.


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