A report by Elliot Hawkins for Essex Live.
The installation features over 130 people from the Windrush era
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“We always have voices in our society that aren’t heard and these needed to be heard, and celebrated.”
It’s been more than 70 years since nearly 1,000 Caribbean immigrants arrived in Essex in search of a new life.
But for many of those people, and for their families who have made Britain their home ever since, their stories have been somewhat forgotten.
One Essex artist is attempting to change that.
Everton Wright (EVEWRIGHT) has created an incredible 55-metre art installation on a bridge in Tilbury, Essex – the very bridge that brought the passengers from the Empire Windrush onto Essex’s shores.
Made up of 432 panes of glass, 72 windows, 22 audio points and 130 faces, its the first site-specific art and sound installation in the UK dedicated to people of the Windrush Generation.
Through the ‘Tilbury Bridge Walkway of Memories’, EVEWRIGHT hopes the piece will bring those forgotten stories back to life and celebrate the the families’ contributions to British society.
“You walk in the footsteps of your ancestors”
With Covid-19 currently restricting the level of social interaction in Essex, the opening of the installation has been pushed back to Spring 2021.
But the magnificence of the creation is already clear to see.
EVEWRIGHT, a Black British artist whose studio is based in Purfleet, told EssexLive about the importance of creating such an informative and unique piece of art.
“It took two months of very hard work installing the bridge,” he said. “It’s the largest celebration to the Windrush Generation in the UK.
“It was like all the families had gone into their lofts and got all the albums out of their grandparents and sent them through to me, I was inundated with images from that era.
“I set 1948 to 1960 as the benchmark I was looking for and I’ve been able to saturate the bridge, really cover it.
“Every time you look around there’s another face, a wedding photo or one from when they first arrived. I tried to make a portrait of the Windrush Generation.
How the Empire Windrush came to Essex
More than 60 years ago, Essex welcomed one of the first groups of post-war Caribbean immigrants.
The Empire Windrush, a passenger liner and cruise ship claimed by the British Government following WWII, was responsible for bringing a group of settlers across the Atlantic to London.
There were up to 1,000 passengers on board, many of whom made the 30-day journey from Jamaica in search of a new life on English soil.
And in June 1948, the Empire Windrush arrived at the Tilbury Docks on the south Essex coast.
Dressed in their “dazzling tie designs” and “Zoot suit style”, the passengers disembarked and were sent on their way to their new homes.
“What I love about the bridge is that you walk in the footsteps of your ancestors. When you walk across from the sea to the land the idea is you walk the bridge as you’re confronted with the images.”
And it’s that closeness, that intimacy, that sets the installation apart from any other piece of art dedicated to the Windrush Generation.
“The location, that’s the place they walked across, there’s no ambiguity,” EVEWRIGHT said. “If you came to Britain, that was the place you came into, you came through Tilbury.
“It’s got that same colour on the bridge and it’s never been touched. On the glass, I hope I’ve been able to do it justice.
“I’ve put permanent vinyl on it so it will be there for the next two years, even longer. The sun goes through and it’s like walking through a church.”
Visitors will also be able to use their mobile phones to interact with the artwork as they walk along the bridge and will have access to a range of sounds and archive footage.
Telling the stories of a generation
Whenever something new emerges within an existing society, conflict is inevitable.
And while the installation aims to shine a light on the positive stories of the Windrush Generation, EVEWRIGHT believes it’s important to address every aspect of their time in Britain.
“There’s a transition point halfway where it goes black and white,” he said. “I’m talking about conflict at that point of the bridge.
“We’ve got recordings from the white nationalist movement at the time, we have the white defence league on one side and on the other side we have unity.
“You cannot talk about Windrush without talking about the conflict. When anything new happens in a society you’ll get conflict.”
The artwork also makes reference to the ‘No Colour Bar’ dance in Lambeth in 1955 where Black and White people came together and danced.
It was a landmark moment in the integration of different communities in Britain, hence why EVEWRIGHT has highlighted the event as part of the full story.
He said: “The colour is the arrival and the black and white is the conflict, then the colour again as we tried to build our lives in the UK.
“Then it’s the integration, the stories of nurses, the fashion, the music. I’ve tried to create an installation where you walk through that whole moment.
The faces and stories of the Windrush Generation
While around 130 people feature on the bridge, there are a number of standout stories to see along the way.
One of those is Alford Gardner – a passenger on the Empire Windrush who’s one of only six passengers still alive today. He’s now 94.
Another is Tina Aparicio (pictured above), a 95-year-old from Chadwell St Mary who delivered more than 2,000 babies during her time as a midwife in Essex.
Others include Amy and Winston Levy, the parents of Small Island author Andrea Levy. Winston travelled on the Empire Windrush.
“When I first experienced the bridge it was like wow, how has no one done this?
“It’s got the same colours that were put on it 100 years ago. It took two months to do the artwork and two weeks of cutting each individual pane of glass to size and putting them on.
“It’s a family album for the Windrush Generation. It has stories on there and it’s living, come prepared to listen, there are two to three hours of listening time on there.
“You walk the bridge, pick a story and just walk.”
“We needed a place for our stories to be seen”
EVEWRIGHT has already worked on a number of projects across Essex designed to tell the stories of Black British people.
He created the “Caribbean Takeaway Takeover” at the S&S Caribbean Café on St John’s Street in Colchester, a piece of art that tells the stories of ten Caribbean elders from the Windrush Generation who arrived in the UK between the 1940s and the 1960s.
It’s yet another platform to highlight the impact of their contribution to British society.
“When I started as an artist I felt what was missing was there weren’t any places where our stories are seen,” he said.
“They’re not readily seen on TV or in mainstream art institutions, or our galleries, the main spaces where people go everyday. I’m forever sending stuff to curators but never getting much back.
“So I thought let’s use our own buildings. In the Black community there are lots of hair salons and takeaways, those are the spaces we’ve got so that’s what I’m going to use.https://get-latest.convrse.media/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.essexlive.news%2Fnews%2Fessex-news%2Fblack-history-month-tilbury-windrush-4604575%3Fcmpredirect%3D&cre=bottom&cip=54
“It’s about self-empowerment, us taking charge of our stories and preserving those stories. I just want to find another way, that’s my protest.
“When I found that bridge it was another opportunity to create a standout moment and a space where Black people’s stories can thrive.
“There wasn’t a voice and we needed a place for our stories to be seen.
“As a Black British artist, the Black stories still need to be told, and not just about that era, stories before and post Windrush too.
“You start to see the integration that happened. That’s what makes us as rich as Britain, that we have that diverseness.”
A preview of the installation is available on evewrightarts.org prior to the full launch in Spring 2021.
He will also be launching an online video tour from October 28, 2020, which takes viewers on a walk across the bridge to learn about the key aspects of the project.