FROM A SMALL ISLAND
“No-one on that ship thought we’d be leaving home forever, but when my father hugged me on the dockside, for some reason, I knew I’d never see him again. I still see my father; you know, in my mind at least, after all these years. But I can’t see his face. No matter how hard I try.”
– Amy Jackson
Andrew Jackson’s new body of work is as poignant a set of photographs as many of us are ever likely to see. Their themes are wide-ranging, though perhaps central concerns are the familial effects and consequences of migration. This year marks the seventieth anniversary of the docking of the Empire Windrush, at Tilbury Docks, Essex, in 1948, its manifest being nearly 500 Caribbean migrants – many of whom were Jamaican – wishing to pursue opportunities in Britain, the ‘Mother Country’. Much has been written about the significance of these pioneering migrants and the ways in which they heralded a period of a decade and a half of Caribbean migration to Britain. For many people, their familiarity with the Windrushstory has been through the vehicle of social reportage, be that in books, magazines, or journalistic snippets. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Jackson’s From a Small Island is that through it, we can engage an altogether more human and sensitive telling of the story of Caribbean migration. Not as any sort of pat summary in which individual human stories are subsumed in a grander dispassionate narrative; but as a delicate and insightful investigation in which an infinite number of considerations accompany, or are embedded in, each image.
During the many decades’ long period since the Caribbean migration to Britain of the mid-twentieth century, the terms immigrant and immigration have, within the British body politic, lost none of their toxicity and venom. Indeed, we might even concede that the term immigrant amounts to an insult and the term immigration is cast in certain sections of the media as a pestilence of near-biblical proportions. Reprising the wearisome characteristics of Britain’s anti-immigrant culture is perhaps best left to another space and time. Suffice it to say that the ungenerous and fearful casting of immigrants as adversely affecting the quality of British life has had the disastrous effect of immigrants not being routinely regarded as sensitive human beings, but being instead cast as vexatious problems. Jackson’s work restores humanity to people from whom this critical characteristic has been routinely withheld or withdrawn. And in restoring humanity, a thousand stories of life can be, and are, told.
It’s possibly true to say that for those of us with immigrant backgrounds - immigrants ourselves, or the children or grandchildren of immigrants – the stories in Jackson’s photographs are ones with which we might, to varying degrees, be familiar. Beyond that, it’s highly likely that for those of us of who are themselves Caribbean migrants, or the children or grandchildren of Caribbean migrants, Jackson’s photographs will strike emotive, deeply empathetic chords. For whilst these images are deeply personal reflections and compositions, there is much within them that has a profound application to many of us of what could be called the Caribbean diaspora. The Caribbean is of course easily understood as a critical component of the African Diaspora, but the term diaspora itself seems in so many ways to be subject to constant mutation. Within, or beyond, the African Diaspora we can comprehend the Caribbean diaspora; and now, the passage of time might oblige or encourage us to think in terms of specific components of the Caribbean diaspora, such as, for example, the Jamaican diaspora. It is this specific manifestation of the Jamaican dimension of the African diaspora that is the subject of this body of photographs.
The above extracts are from a catalogue introduction by Eddie Chambers, for From a Small Island | Andrew Jackson, mac Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham, 5 May - 8 July 2018
Andrew Jackson was selected for the Autograph ABP 2018 Light Work Artist-in-Residence program in Syracuse, NY, enabling him to produce the works on show in ‘From Small Island’ at MAC Birmingham.