This work is about the story of my parents generation's arrival to this country. I wanted to make a work which combined their memories with my experiences of having been born and raised in the UK. Using the '3 Graces' trope as a way of describing the journey of arrival, discord and settlement, the work becomes a living testimony of issues still being faced today.
This drawing is deeply personal because it was made in response to my mother’s generation the so called ‘Windrush’ who came to Britain to help to rebuild the country. I started the drawing at the end of 2016, because at that time I didn’t feel that enough was being said about my parents’ generation who worked really hard for this country. I found my mother’s old passport, and in the passport, it said ‘to allow the bearer to go freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer protection where necessary’, but this wasn’t their experience when they came here.
I used the 3 Graces as a trope to tell the story about arrival, finding one’s feet and settlement. The three women can be seen as one person at 3 stages of her life - or as 3 separate women. The young maiden setting out on her journey of adventure (the woman on the right), the strong matriarch who is standing in the face of adversity, refusing to be intimidated in the face of discrimination and hardship (middle figure) and the figure on the left the wise woman, who is seasoned by knowledge and wisdom, this woman represents the generation now, who are old and see Britain very much as being their home. When I made the drawing though, I had a great sense of unease, so I gave this figure an armor (inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci Warrior- which I made a lot of drawings of, I often make copies of master drawings in my spare time). About 18 months after I completed this drawing, the Windrush scandal took place (google Windrush scandal, it is still happening, also read The Windrush Betrayal by Amelia Gentleman).
Some of the symbols - the figure on the right has a golden flower on her dress, at the time I googled Windrush in 2016 I got images of a William Morris pattern, which is also called Windrush so I decided to use this, I used acrylic gold because there was this myth in the Caribbean that the streets of London were paved with Gold. The acrylic for me representing a fool’s gold. I used Adinkra symbols in the work, the figure in the middle is wearing earrings, the symbol is called Nkyinkyim (which depicts the tortuous nature of life’s journey, these twists and turns require one to be versatile and resilient to survive).
The figure on the left - the wise woman has the symbol of Sankofa on her wrist band, this symbol is also called ‘The Return’, it is about returning and fetching - looking back in the past, understand where you are coming from in order to know where you are going. The armor she is wearing is made with silver gilding wax, silver tarnishes with age, the beauty of which is hidden beneath the surface.
The figure in the middle pretty much sums up life in Britain for black people in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s - tough and uncompromising in terms of race relations, the march depicted on her dress was in Noting Hill, and was lead by Claudia Jones who was editor of the West Indian Gazette, Britain’s first black newspaper. When I was making this drawing one of my studio neighbours asked me if it was about Brexit, and it could easily be because the issues remain unchanged...
Finally, the title of the piece - They Didn’t Come to Stay, is precisely that - most of that generation thought that they would come here and work for a maximum of 5 years then return home. A few did, or they went to live in America, but the majority stayed.
2017 Menier Gallery, London, UK
Shades of Noir, Ethics, Hierarchy and Imperialism: Preserving Voices Vulnerable to Erasure (London, 2018) p.36 (ill). <https://issuu.com/shadesofnoir/docs/ethics_preserving_voices_vulnerable>
The London Group, The Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize Catalogue (London, 2019).