The Caribbean Living Room project beautifully intertwines memories, cultural connections, and artistic expression.
It is a testament to the resilience and creativity of the Windrush generation and their contributions to the Oxford community. By sharing these stories and experiences, the project hopes to reach a wider audience and foster a greater understanding of the challenges faced by this generation.
In 2018 Junie James from ACKHI in collaboration with women’s group BK LUWO curated an exhibition exploring the idea of the Caribbean Living Room which has toured Oxford, showing first in the Museum of Oxford and later with the support of Fusion Arts, showing in a disused shop in Templars Square, Cowley.
The re-creation of a typical Caribbean living room was influenced by memories of the educational television series ‘How we used to live’ which didn’t reflect the experiences of Black British families.
Junie James set out to create a space which reflected her own childhood memories and those of others from Oxford’s Windrush generation. The exhibition includes items collected by Junie James and donated by friends and visitors.
The Caribbean Living Room is a space which holds connections with homes in the Caribbean through objects, pictures, coloured glass, vibrant silk flowers and particular items of furniture. There are also echoes of the traditional Victorian parlour, a space which was used for special occasions and filled with ornaments and objects.
But the living room was especially significant as a safe space to socialise and party with friends in the hostile environment of post-war Britain when pubs, churches and social spaces excluded Black people.
These small spaces were filled with clashing colours and patterns; an expression of the vibrant cultures of the Caribbean and their newly evolving forms in the mother country.
Students from the Foundation Art & Design diploma at Oxford Brookes University collaborated with Junie James and Lecturer Rachel Barbaresi to explore ideas around belonging and the cultural spaces that emerged as migrants from the Windrush generation became established in Oxford. Through conversations with Junie and work with projections and experimental photography they explored connections across time, place and cultural experiences through the Caribbean Living room.
As part of the project, the students visited the archives of Fusion Arts, formerly known as 'Bloomin' Arts,' a community arts organization that collaborated with Oxford's Windrush generation to establish carnival and other cultural activities. They also stumbled upon a collection of 1980s slides taken at a Trinidadian carnival by Ruth and the late Alastair Clark, relatives of Rachel Barbaresi. These visual threads beautifully resonate with the textures and arrangements within the Caribbean Living Room, evoking nostalgic feelings of heat, light, color, and memories of another time and place.
Inspired by their interactions with Junie James and the exhibition, the students combined analogue and digital techniques, incorporating paint, light, drawing, and photography to create playful collages, short films, collections, images, and objects. Their work artfully reflects the emerging themes and stories shared by Junie, capturing the essence of the project.
While celebrating Windrush Day, it is crucial to acknowledge that the Windrush scandal is an ongoing issue, with many individuals who arrived to help Britain in the post-war era experiencing grave injustices and awaiting rightful compensation. The project recognizes and seeks to shed light on these injustices.
This project would not have been possible without the collaborative efforts of Junie James, Rachel Barbaresi, and the students involved. Special thanks go to Fusion Arts and Ruth Clark for their support and the use of archive images, the Oxford Windrush Group for inviting participation in Windrush Day 2020, OCSLD at Oxford Brookes University for their BTAP funding, and all the colleagues who facilitated this live project within the university.
Home and Belonging; The Caribbean Living Room is part of the Windrush Exhibition that's taking place in the Window Galleries on Friar's Entry between 19th June - 31 July 2023.