Artist creates portraits with wallpaper as ‘love letter’ to Windrush generation

Artist creates portraits with wallpaper as ‘love letter’ to Windrush generation
Yvadney Davis, 42, has created an art exhibition about Windrush (Yvadney Davis/PA)
Yvadney Davis - Yvadney Davis

An artist has painted four “poetic and empowering” portraits using 70s-style wallpaper of West Indian children from the Windrush generation to commemorate their 75th anniversary.

Yvadney Davis, 42, from Nunhead, south London, created an art exhibition called Proverbs of the Windrush Child as a “love letter” to the Windrush generation and to honour her Jamaican grandparents.

Proverbs of the Windrush Child exhibition at the Black Cultural Archives in BrixtonProverbs of the Windrush Child exhibition at the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton (Yvadney Davis/PA)

She interviewed four people about their life in the Caribbean before and after arriving in England, and painted them on a linen canvas to highlight the sacks used to “store grain and coffee” in the West Indies.

Ms Davis came up with the idea for the exhibition when she spoke to her Jamaican father-in-law – who moved to England as a child – on Christmas Day after making him the island’s hibiscus drink, Sorrel.

“It struck me that we always focus on the adult who made the decision to come here, but there were so many children who didn’t have a choice,” she told the PA news agency.

“They were left with relatives or friends and grew up in an abundance of nature – a different way of living that was very community-focused.

Photo of artist Yvadney Davis, 42Photo of artist Yvadney Davis, 42 (Yvadney Davis/PA)

“Then, suddenly, they were sent to live in England and they didn’t have a choice in that, they may not have known their parents or remembered them, they may have had new siblings.

“Then they had to deal with racism, probably for the first time in their life … I wanted to give them a voice and share their learnings, which is why I called it proverbs.”

The mother-of-two painted the four individuals’ quotes “swirling out of their heads” in a semi-circle on the portrait.

The portraits were painted on a linen canvas to draw attention to the linen sacks commonly used for storing grain and coffee in the West Indies, Ms Davis said.

One of Ms Davis' portraits of Yvonne Bailey-Smith, author of 'The Day I Fell off my Island'One of Ms Davis’s portraits of Yvonne Bailey-Smith, author of The Day I Fell Off My Island (Yvadney Davis/PA)

She explained: “I used a lot of vintage wallpaper from the 70s because the houses that I went into growing up were still decorated in this very distinctive style… it was distinctly working class.

“Each of the ones (wallpaper) I chose kind of reminds me of the Caribbean in their own way, like the water, the sea, the sun.

“I also used linen canvas, because it’s quite rough, and that’s what they would use to store grain and coffee.

“So, I wanted that element of back home.”

Ms Davis described her painting technique as “very layered” using “a lot of paint strokes”.

“It’s kind of like a rhythm in terms of how I paint and that’s why people comment on my paint strokes,” she said.

She used a quote from Jamaican political activist Marcus Garvey to emphasise the importance of telling the stories of the Windrush generation.

Photo of artist Yvadney Davis, 42Mother of two Yvadney Davis with Yvonne Bailey-Smith  (Yvadney Davis/PA)

Ms Davis said: “Marcus Garvey has a quote, it’s like, you need to know where you’re coming from in order to go forward.

“We’re built on the back of people that made a lot of sacrifices, financially, their pride; they were qualified to do things and came here to work in the lowest roles.

“My granny passed a couple of years ago… they didn’t come here for nothing, they came here to build something for us who are left.

“For Caribbean kids, I’ve seen it with my own children in school, the education system will label them as worthless, thugs, menaces and violent.

“So, I think it’s important when we look at Windrush to have some pride in where we came from.

“We came from very little, but from that little we’ve got the carnival, we created Desmond’s (TV sitcom), the whole music scene, art, food.”

Proverbs of the Windrush Child is currently on display at the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton until September 10th.

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