How UK museums are marking Windrush Day

Image: Self-portrait, photograph, by Vanley Burke, 2023, Birmingham, England. © Vanley Burke

Exhibitions, events, talks, performances and screenings take place from today as the sector recognises Windrush Day and the 75th anniversary

As the 75th anniversary of the Windrush generation’s arrival in the UK is marked today, many museums throughout the UK have begun their participation in the national anniversary celebrations, while exhibitions already begun this year continue.

Initiatives to highlight the enduring impact of the Windrush generation include new displays, new exhibitions, talks, events, performances and celebrations.

Taking place today and this week

The Bank of England Museum in London is opening a new display today, in collaboration with Museumand – the National Caribbean Heritage Museum. ‘Pardner Hand: A Caribbean answer to British banking exclusion’ will explore the Pardner Hand system, a community-based savings scheme developed as the Windrush generation were denied basic banking services. Catherine Ross and Lynda Burrell, co-founders of Museumand, have written a blog for the museum, exploring the topic in more detail.

Also by Museumand will be one of the first new exhibitions at Nottingham Castle since it announced its reopening. The touring exhibition ‘70 Objeks & Tings’, which is accompanied by a book of the same name, “tells the stories of the Windrush generation in their own words, and celebrates the amazing contributions they have made, and continue to make, to life in Britain”, including in the castle’s home of Nottingham. It will be available for visitors to view from 26 June 2023 as the Castle reopens.

The National Windrush Museum, an organisation which researches, exhibits, and promotes the cultural heritage of the Windrush generation, is to launch its International Conference. ‘Windrush 75 International Conference: Reforming our Futures’ takes place 23 and 24 June 2023. Its programme of panel discussions and presentations includes speakers from Museums Galleries Scotland’s Empire, Slavery & Scotland’s Museums project, Museums Association, the Royal Air Force Museum, and Royal Museums Greenwich.

A day-long festival at the Migration Museum in Lewisham takes place on Saturday, 24 June. It will feature music, performance, storytelling, interactive talks, workshops led by artists, creatives and organisations with lived experience as holders of the legacy of the Windrush generation.

The National Maritime Museum is hosting two special Windrush Day events during the 75th anniversary year, and has partnered with Caribbean Social Forum, local schools and young people to create its programme. Free expert talks and live music will be accompanied by workshops inspired by objects from the Museum’s collection today, while Saturday 24th June will see further events including Yoga sessions and more creative workshops.

Bristol Museums are marking Windrush Day today with the opening of a dedicated film programme highlighting the journey of Bristol’s Afrikan-Caribbean community from the 1940s. Curated by Trace Mulzac, founder of community organisation DET Entertainment, the films will be screened on a Vintage Mobile Cinema Bus in Broadmead, and the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, until the 24 June 2023.

The films include rarely seen archival film footage, which includes “everyday experiences such as the challenges of securing accommodation to memorable moments like the first St Paul’s Carnival and the successful Bristol Bus Boycott campaign which ended the colour bar to employment on Bristol buses and led to creation of the first Race Relations Act in 1965.”

Bristol Museum and Art Gallery will also be host to filmmaker Clive Smith’s film premiere, about Bristol’s Afrikan-Caribbean legends of martial arts, in an evening event that includes performances and a DJ set.

Both Windrush 75 and Refugee Week 2023 will be marked by Ulster Museum, as Curator of Modern History, Tríona White Hamilton, leads a tour of its exhibition in the ‘Inclusive Global Histories’ gallery today.

Also hosting a tour is the Natural History Museum. The free tour taking place today will be conducted by its resident scientist and Principal Curator, Miranda Lowe CBE. highlighting the contributions of Caribbean scientists and historical figures, while opening a wider conversation on the colonial legacy of the Natural History Museum.

The Horniman’s Windrush programme includes the screening of filmed interviews with local people, discussing their memories and experiences. Into the weekend, The Horniman will also open ‘The Windrush Front Room’, part of the Windrush Collection. The interactive space recreates an era-specific living room of the1940s and 1950s, and alongside it will be a talk from Felicity Ethnic about her Windrush journey, and a reading from author Tony Fairweather’s book ‘Twenty-Eight Pounds Ten Shillings – A Windrush Story’.

This evening, Exeter’s RAMM Museum hosts a free celebration event, with live museum, food, craft activities, poetry readings, and workshops provided by the Devon Windrush Group. Exhibitions and information will explain the significance of Windrush 75, with profiles of Devon residents who have contributed to life and work in the area.

Black Country Living Museum will be commemorating Windrush 75 on Saturday 24 June 2023, when the ‘living museum’ introduces characters representing the Windrush generation, who will create immersive stories, scenarios and conversations, all shared by members of the real Windrush generation in a sold out experience. The museum will also see Vanley Burke, a documentary photographer and author of ‘Home from Home’, in conversation at an event taking place today.

Into August, the Brunel Museum will celebrate the legacy and contribution of the Windrush generation by hosting a series of free performances to celebrate the legacy and contribution of the Windrush generation. ‘Windrush to Wapping – Meet Sydney Charles Lewis’ will see a performance from ‘Sydney Charles Lewis’, a Tube Guard on the East London Line in the 1970’s, whose father came over on Windrush in the 1950’s.

Continuing exhibitions

Exhibitions exploring the Windrush generation are already well under way at some UK museums.

At the V&A, a season of Windrush 75 events and displays have already begun. From 12 June, its display ‘Between Two Worlds: Vanley Burke and Francis Williams’ opened to explore portraits of two Jamaican gentlemen scholars, created three centuries apart. The display brings together documentary photographs by Burke (pictured above), described by the V&A as the ‘Godfather of Black British photography’, and everyday things he collected, placed adjacent to historical artefacts and scientific images that “shed new light on the V&A’s enigmatic portrait of 18th-century Jamaican writer Francis Williams”.

A series of talks and lectures at the V&A began earlier this month will continue into August, and it will host a late opening on 25 August including performances, installations and music.

An exhibition which opened at Mansfield Museum in February continues, celebrating the district’s Windrush generation, migration and black history. ‘It Runs Through Us’ invites residents to learn more about Mansfield’s black history, and the contribution made by the Windrush generation. It is part of an ongoing project, led by Mansfield District Council, to document and collect oral histories from local people of the Windrush generation and their descendants. Videos will be shown in the exhibition and will form the first archive of black-led oral histories in Mansfield. The exhibition runs until 30 November 2023.

Lewisham’s Migration Museum is exhibiting a new installation by multidisciplinary visual artist EVEWRIGHT as part of this year’s Windrush 75th anniversary celebrations, exploring the artist’s own perspectives on growing up in the London borough as the child of parents from the Windrush generation. The site-specific multimedia installation runs until 16 July 2023.

The Willis Museum and Sainsbury Gallery’s exhibition commemorates the 75th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks. It tells the stories of Basingstoke residents at the town’s Willis Museum and Sainsbury Gallery, and has been created in partnership with Hampshire Cultural Trust (HCT), which operates the Willis Museum, Basingstoke’s Caribbean Society and Friends and the Cultural Diversity Consortium.

The exhibition takes visitors on a journey celebrating the significant contributions of the Windrush generation in Basingstoke. Among objects on display is a photographic commission by Tamsyn Warde and an immersive soundscape by composer Thomas Baynes and loans including Sabine Kaner’s ‘When the Boat Comes In, Stacey Leigh Ross’s painting, ‘WindFall RushOut’, and a print by Eliza Southwood entitled ‘London is the Place for Me’. The exhibition runs until 30 July 2023.

Family beachside snapshots are the focus of an exhibition at Folkestone Museum, created with Heading Image Projects. Photographs and memories chart the experience of African and Caribbean people enjoying the seaside in mid-twentieth-century UK. The exhibition has been situated in the Town Hall Foyer since May, and will run until 31 August 2023.

The Windrush 75 Network, created to boost public recognition of the history and contribution of the Windrush generation, has an extensive list of events both in and outside of museums, on its website. The network’s steering group includes Aditi Anand, Artistic Director at the Migration Museum; Tony Butler, Executive Director of Derby Museums Trust, and Catherine Ross of Museumand: The National Caribbean Heritage Museum.