Lost Windrush immigrants’ landing cards reimagined as art


Pic: Jemima Childs

Windrush passenger landing cards destroyed by the Home Office in 2010 have been recreated and put on display at Goldsmiths, University of London.

1,027 landing cards have been recreated for each individual passenger who disembarked from the MV Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks on June 22 1948.  The ship had collected passengers from Jamaica, Bermuda, Trinidad and Mexico.

The information on the exhibits is derived from a new transcription of the passenger list held at the National Archives.

These landing card slips listed the address that the passenger gave as their intended destination in Britain.  Several of the addresses given are local to Goldsmiths, including New Cross, Deptford, Peckham and Lewisham.

The documents also recorded Windrush immigrants’ arrival dates in the UK. After they were destroyed, it made it harder to check the records of older Caribbean-born residents experiencing residency difficulties.

These papers were often the last remaining record of a person’s arrival date.  This date was crucial to a citizenship application, because the 1971 Immigration Act gave people who had already moved to Britain indefinite leave to remain.

Pic: Jemima Childs

For many immigrants, this was their last official form of identification. The Home Office decision to destroy the records has been condemned by Labour MP David Lammy.

He said: “It is an absolute disgrace that the Home Office destroyed these documents and then forced Windrush generation migrants to try to prove their status, threatening them with deportation and stripping them of their rights.”

The idea for the exhibition Windrush: Arrival 1948 came from Goldsmiths History Department head Dr John Price. He said: “The exhibition seeks to ask questions rather than present answers. We want it to act as a starting point for debate.”

Pic: Jemima Childs

The exhibition intentionally distances itself from individual narratives, and instead seeks to illustrate the ordinariness of what is often portrayed as an extraordinary event. The art attempts to represent both a mundane piece of maritime bureaucracy and also a pivotal moment in the life of each passenger.

The exhibition is open 9am to 9pm daily until Wednesday 13 February in the Richard Hoggart Building.

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