Croydon’s Caribbean Influencers exhibition displayed at National Portrait Gallery

An exhibition telling the stories of Croydon’s Caribbean community has gone on display at the National Portrait Gallery this week as part of Citizen UK, a wider gallery project visualising migration stories from the mid-twentieth century.

The exhibition, created in collaboration with the Museum of Croydon, includes oral histories collected by local volunteer ‘Citizen Researchers’, poetry by Croydon’s Poet Laureate, Shaniqua Benjamin, as well as artwork by Croydon artist Kyam.

Benjamin told ELL: “I really hope that [the exhibition] is going to shine a positive light on Croydon which is needed for multitude of reasons. It shows the amount of amazing, inspiring people that have lived in Croydon and do live in Croydon.

“I think all of us involved learnt so much about just how important these sorts of exhibitions are for Croydon, for Britain, and for us as a whole to learn about more about our history.”

The record shop inspired by the Caribbean tradition of sharing stories and songs.

The exhibition also highlights the lives of some of Croydon’s famous residents including the Met’s first female Black police officer Sislin Fay Allen and renowned reggae artist Desmond Dekker.

Alexandra Talbott, Senior Producer at the National Portrait Gallery, told ELL: “I’m so excited that this display has come to the National Portrait Gallery from the Museum of Croydon. It’s a great example of just some of the enormous talent within Croydon’s Caribbean Community.”

TJ, 18, an art student visiting the exhibition said: “I’ve learnt a lot about Croydon’s history and the culture of the people living there and the major players who have helped it develop”.

Famous Croydonites: Desmond Dekker, Clarence McKenzie and Sislin Fay Allen

This week also marked the opening of ‘Windrush: Portraits of a Pioneering Generation’ at the National Portrait Gallery, a series of ten portraits honouring the accomplishments of the Windrush generation on the 75th anniversary of their arrival in Britain.

The gallery, which reopened in June this year following a three year closure, has pledged to “increase the diversity of their Collection and seek to acquire portraits where there are key gaps in our holdings, particularly in the representation of women and ethnic minority sitters and artists.”

Poet, Shaniqua Benjamin, told ELL: “It is key to have more projects like this and I hope that more galleries, organisations, teams will do more projects like this just to highlight the stories in our communities that we need to know and that we all should know.”

Citizen UK has previously received National Portrait Gallery funding for projects in collaboration with Tower Hamlets Local History Library & ArchivesEaling Local History Centre and Wolverhampton Arts & Culture.

Croydon Caribbean Influencers is free to visit and will be exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery until 12 February 2024.

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