So if you remember, at the beginning of Black History Month, I saw an Exhibition advertised in Tower Hamlets called: Once We Came To A New Home.
The Exhibition venue Idea Store on Chrisp Street, describes the art by photographer Cinzia D’Ambrosi as part of a project to “preserve, celebrate and promote” the history of migration and settlement of the Afro-Caribbean communities in White City, London. The photographs of people from the community would be a taster of the main project, which also includes an audio project: real stories from the migrants. I’ve spoken to my Nan about when she first came over from St Lucia to The Isle of Dogs, in the late 1950s and the severe racism she, as well as other migrants experienced from white people within the community in East London, and of course I’ve read Reni Eddi-Lodge’s book.
So, regardless of having seizures or work to do, or a dodgy leg I couldn’t wait to see the exhibition.
However, this is what it was:
Even the Librarian referred to it as “just a few pictures on a board” when I had to ask for directions.
The Exhibition was so unremarkable that I’d initially walked past it.
I was so devastated for my Nan and her generation, I sat down in an armchair in front of the board and wept.
Her generation had been let down.
It made me wonder, who are our grandparents giving their history to? The white Librarian was extremely dismissive; the words: “just” struck through my heart like a knife and clearly she didn’t understand the significance of the pictures. But then, why would she?
Who were the people in the pictures?
Where was the information?
There was nothing to say what they had been through. In fact, the only piece of information on the board was an A4 piece of paper telling the visitor about the photographer, which I found the most insulting part of all.
I decided to contact her through social media and found her through Instagram; Her response was thankful that I had taken the time to go and see the “exhibition” (what a joke), and was apologetic that it was a disappointment for me, however according to her this was out of her hands because of (a) funding and (b) timing – apparently the library had notified her at short notice, of where she would be able to set up. For me this wasn’t an acceptable enough apology and only incited my anger even more, because she wasn’t owning up to her misinterpretation of a very sensitive situation. My Nan’s generation have been disrespected too many times and every time I look at my picture of her “exhibition”, I think: a Black person could’ve done that better. Many people on social media agreed with me.
So I told her.
Our generation are definitely more mindful about who we let tell our stories and who we are celebrating. For instance, November is about remembering those who have fallen, yet the older generation – knowing that the British Empire continues to disrespectfully forget that some of their Black British men have fallen for them, and red poppies do not commemorate Black soldiers – wear red poppies. Why? Because they don’t understand, whereas we as the younger generation do.
Why did these people share their stories with this woman, when they could’ve shared them with their children instead, who would’ve done a better job of commemorating and celebrating those stories? What questions was she asking them? My Nan is in her eighties and is severely disabled, yet myself and my uncles have gotten some remarkable stories out of her.
Clearly the “exhibition was a taster”. The audios are even worse.
I’ve seen the website… Her others are far better.
Why did she go to old people’s homes to do the audios????
Why didn’t she reach out to people’s families????
This generation has slowly been dying for years due to the psychological impact of institutional racism, and now we’re doing them a further disservice by allowing them to die without preserving their history properly.
It breaks my heart.