A new exhibition housed in a London university is set to recreate the landing cards of passengers on the HMT Empire Windrush. The documents created mirror those quietly destroyed by the Home Office in 2010 before becoming a central component of one of 2018’s most contentious news stories.
Windrush: Arrival 1948, which is open from today until 13 February at Goldsmiths, University of London, features an array of images and maps which "illuminate and challenge assumptions made about those who arrived on the Empire Windrush more than 70 years ago.”
A total of 1,027 individual landing cards have been created for the exhibition, each based off a new transcription of the passenger list which is held at the National Archives in Richmond. The show’s curator, Dr John Price – current head of the university’s history department – says the exhibition seeks to “ask questions, rather than present answers”, stating that “We want it to act as a starting point for debate, rather than consolidating consensus, and to provide a wider viewpoint on Windrush, rather than retracing familiar steps.”
The curator additionally points out how “Media attention at the time focused on the ‘500 Jamaican men, all of whom were eager to work in Britain’ while largely overlooking the other 527 passengers. Since then, there’s been a tendency to depict Windrush as the origin of settled black communities in Britain and to exemplify it as a seminal moment in black British history and identity. As a result, the long and varied histories of persons of African origin and descent in Britain can become overshadowed, overlooked and marginalised by this single event.”
Windrush returned as a topic of news in April last year when it was revealed that thousands of long-term UK residents faced deportation after the Home Office – then under the rule of now-PM and then home secretary Theresa May – and the UK Border Agency began destroying documentation which acted as proof of arrival in the country. The Conservatives maintain that while the destruction of the cards was carried out by them, it was, in fact, the previous Labour government who actioned the plan in the first place.
The exhibition takes place in the Richard Hoggart Building – named after the academic, author, and former warden of Goldsmiths – and is accessible to the public as well as its student body.
In addition to the landing cards, the show also contains a replica of a mid-century Caribbean front room installation curated by Goldsmiths designer and lecturer Rose Sinclair, and audio arrival stories recorded at the university in October 2018.