By Fin Strathern, Investigations Correspondent
Bristol artist and photographer Garfield McKenzie is creating a portrait collection to celebrate leading figures amongst the Bristol Caribbean community. Fin Strathern caught up with Garfield at the St Pauls Learning Centre regarding his ambitions for the project.
Having been brought up by his grandparents after his mother passed, Garfield became motivated to create the Pioneers collection because he has always felt a strong connection towards his elders.
He believes there is a "wisdom and life experience" within elders that is important to document and teach to younger members of the community.
Mr. McKenzie titled the collection "Pioneers" to honour the Windrush generation that migrated from the Caribbean to Britain following World War Two.
"They were true pioneers in paving the way for future generations, struggling for racial equality in a hostile foreign country," he says.
The portraits are part of an exhibition coinciding with Black History Month, but Mr. McKenzie dislikes the term ‘black history’.
"The missing pages of world history should be taught in every school all year round. Cramming it all into one month is a disservice to communities with African heritage."
He continues, "there is a lack of historical memory in the African family that holds us back. The narrative of British history taught in schools tries to remind Europeans of the good of empire – it does not teach children of the great damage it has caused and, even still, failed to repair."
Looking at the portraits in the Learning Centre café, there are expressions of wisdom, happiness, fortitude, and at times solemnness.
Take 92-year-old Roy Hackett, who in 1962 became a founding member of the Commonwealth Coordinated Committee (CCC).
Established to improve living conditions and seek equal opportunities for Caribbean people in Bristol and beyond, the CCC was an important part of the St Pauls community.
Roy was also a key figure in the 1963 Bristol Bus Boycott. A situation which arose from the Bristol Omnibus Company’s refusal to hire 18-year-old Guy Bailey solely on the basis that he was black.
Within four months of announcing the boycott, the Bristol Caribbean community successfully forced Omnibus to cease discriminating in its hiring of bus drivers.
The boycott helped contribute to wider changes in UK legislation with the 1965 Race Relations Act, making racial discrimination in public places illegal.
Barbara Dettering is another community figure featured in the collection. As well as being a teacher in Bristol for many years, Barbara was another leading member of the CCC.
She helped to organise the first St Pauls Carnival, held in 1968 to celebrate the area's multiculturalism. Since then, St Pauls Carnival has grown into one of Bristol’s biggest and most renowned annual events.
In addition to those fighting for equality, many individuals in the collection are treasured for their cultural and artistic gifts to the community.
Mrs. Williams raised her son, who would go on to become the innovative drum and bass DJ Roni Size, in St Andrews after migrating from Jamaica.
Including individuals who have helped contribute to the creative arts in Bristol was important to Garfield.
"Music and the cultural trends that follow it are one of the main ways that Caribbean migrants have influenced Bristol, the UK, and the world," he says.
Considering the Caribbean community's contributions to Bristol, it comes as no surprise that petitions are calling for the toppled Edward Colston statue in the city centre to be replaced with a figurehead from the Pioneers collection.
Mr. McKenzie believes it is important for university students to educate themselves on the struggles faced by the Windrush generation.
"They came as victims of colonisation, and not long before that they were victims of slavery, and not long before that they were stolen from their countries. The wealth that has been built on the backs of Africans was done so unwillingly and the disrespect the Windrush generation has faced since their arrival in Britain is a crying shame."
The Pioneers Collection is an ongoing project, if you would like to participate, or know of anyone who might, you can get in touch at:
Epigram would like to thank the Real Photography Company who are hosting the exhibit at the St Paul's Learning Centre for their support with this article.
Featured Image: Gee Photography / Garfield McKenzie