Exhibition Review – Life Between Islands

a sepia-toned image of a Caribbean colonial front room with the double doors open. Through the doors is view of highly polished wooden veranda with a view of a lush rainforest

Featured image: “Ghosting” by Roshini Kempadoo (2004)

3 Dec 2021

First thoughts, right after the exhibition

Feel a bit of a husk, turned inside out, introspective, considering my role in this legacy, not as Windrush descendant but as a ‘modern’ Caribbean immigrant. How do I keep the joyous resistance going? How do I carry the narrative beyond the brutal history into a new position where we have the solution, we are the solution and this time, we own the solution? We are creating the next evolutionary step – Caribbean people as harbingers/designers of the world’s future? Ambitious maybe, but highly plausible…

4 April 2021

Second thoughts, a few months later…

Life Between Islands was a hard exhibition to write about. I suppose you can tell. It took me months to come back to this. I felt so triggered for most of it. Still, I knew these stories had to be told. Equally, I felt so happy to see our Caribbean resilience and joy so bold and bright! I think maybe poetry might be the way forward here. Full sentences still aren’t coming to me, so here goes…

Life Between the Islands

There needed to be a little Black boy being manipulated by white adult police officers on a tv screen

– McMillan’s Front Room

There needed to be the curio case of phallic looking bullets promising violence with their round blunted heads

– Locke’s Trophies of Empire

There needed to be multiple stop and search reports for a mother to draw how many times she nearly lost her son

– Walker’s Series 3

There needed to be the story of how a father left home and never came back, because he couldn’t

– Atille’s Dreaming Rivers

These stories needed to be told.

They needed to be heard.

They needed to stop being buried

By misinformation and deliberate misinterpretation

Buried beneath the enormous fear

Of different

Of immigrant

Of ‘ethnics’

But I tell you,

As a different ethnic immigrant

My soul took a battering.

I find the older I get, the less I can stand

This ‘trauma porn’, as Aisha calls it.


Tell me how its racist

Show me evidence you were discriminated against

Prove that you were harmed

How? What would be sufficient proof?

Me running screaming naked through the streets?

Me falling down on the ground sobbing and bawling?

Well this exhibition was proof, eh

Everywhere you looked was

Dignified, creative, clever documentation of experiences

Told by the people who lived it.

It was powerful

               And painful

                              And raw

But chile,

When I bent the corner and saw Ove’s La Jablesse and Hairy Man in rope

When I saw Ada Patterson’s urchins move through the streets of Barbados, making children laugh and run away

When I saw the sultry mischief of Lisa Brice’s Blue women

And Boyce’s Crop Over in the plantation house

And the glistening cocoyea fan from Curry

Oh yes!

Thank you, ancestors!

Thank you, sweet baby Jesus!

I exhaled.

My whole body unwound and released

Tension seeping out of every pore

With the speed and desperate relief of

That first gasp

As you break the surface

Of water that has held you for too long.

I was born in the sun

Beside the Caribbean Sea

I didn’t know this pain like this.

I know this pain with joy.

My people have mastered the art of creating joy in the midst of pain

But raw un-joyed pain?

Just so, just so?




Heaps of pain upon pain.

No bredds.

I was born in the in-between.


….Historical trauma and modern-day crime sprees

….Middle-class oil wealth and Working-class recession

….Emotional genius and emotional distress

Is the UK that pop my in-between bubble

Lancing it with generational, systematic, institutional pain

So yes,

I inhaled that beautiful soul in the golden headpiece

The grandiose steelband men in full regalia

The fine white sand on the airline seats

All the celebrations of our resilience

All of it!

I greedily gasped it in.

After that…

I think there was more.

I vaguely remember an afro-futuristic film

Some quilted fabric… maybe?

By that point

I was too emotionally wrung out and

Mentally worn down

To focus.

So maybe there was too much

For me anyway

But tell me,

I would be curious to hear

White people, how did you experience Life between the Islands?

That experiential gap is where the learning lies.

by Leigh,
05 May 2022

In Summary –
Thoughts about The SpaceJuxtaposition of Tate & Lyle – built with Sugar. There should have been some mention of this… some overt acknowledgement but I can see that they were covering certain years and the sugar years were more transatlantic slave trade. It definitely added something deeper to stroll through the halls built by the cane fields in my home country and the blood of my ancestors, while hearing the true unsanitised story of life with Mother England.  
Thoughts about the CollectionPowerful. Some pieces were more abstract than I could grasp, even with explanations.
Some pieces needed no explanation.

Some pieces drew me in but spit me out e.g. the reggae party and dancing with the man being beaten in the background.

As a Black woman, some lines triggered me. e.g. I really enjoyed Sonia Boyce’s piece filmed in Barbados but there was a line in Martina Atille’s movie where Boyce was art director – “He couldn’t come home”. So many meanings – home to his culture? Himself? His family? Infidelity? Another trigger was the film playing in Michael McMillan’s Joyce’s Front Room. As a Black mother I struggled to watch more than 1 minute of white police officers trying to intimidate and manipulate a little Black boy into lying or incriminating his older brother, while he could hear sounds of said brother being beaten up in the background.  
My User Journey ExperienceOrganised the flow so well (see image of exhibition map at start). A true story of the brutality and rebellious joy, the bittersweetness of straddling Britain and the Caribbean.

At times, I needed to leave a film or room because I was getting triggered.  

Too much work? I started looking around the room and picking certain pieces that caught my eye to focus on. I imagine different pieces catch different eyes so maybe it’s not ALL meant to be seen by everyone?  

Arted-out. Over stimulated (but then we saw BBP first)  
Take Away FeelingsPain
Especially joy in recognising and sharing the parts of our culture that are so effervescent – Carnival, music, even coconut leaves and Billy Ocean!  
Take Away ThoughtsHave less art? More engagement?
Do not have things on the walls just to stare at
Create an experience through the selection of art but also the atmosphere.