Speaking for Ourselves

No Turning Back: Seven Migration Moments that Changed Britain

No Turning Back: Seven Migration Moments that Changed Britain

Daniel Nelson

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - No Turning Back: Seven Migration Moments that Changed Britain


Migration moments to remember

Review by Daniel Nelson

The Migration Museum's new exhibition starts in 1290 but has Brexit in its sights.It makes that clear in the exhibition's name: No Turning Back: Seven Migration Moments that Changed Britain.

“Brexit is currently the centre of attention, but Britain has faced many moments throughout history  which have had a major impact on the movement of people to and from these shores,” says Sophie Henderson, director of the Migration Museum Project, which has established the Migration Museum at The Workshop and is working to create a permanent national Migration Museum for Britain.

The first of the seven is the expulsion of England’s entire Jewish population in 1290. Another early landmark is the departure of a ship from Tilbury in 1607, heading for the west coast of India, where the captain met the Mughal Emperor with whom he conversed in Turkish.

It's appropriate that the the moments contain stories of us going there, which we seem to forget when discussing migration, just as we talk only about recent arrivals rather than the millions of Brits who sought better lives abroad in Canada, South Africa, the United States, Australia, the Caribbean and, these days, Spain.

Other exhibition landmarks incude 1885, the first cross-Channel refugees, the ousted Protestant Huguenots; the 1905 Jewish arrivals escaping pogroms in Poland Russia; the 1952 Windrush generation; the rise and role of Rock Against Racism from 1978, following rock guitarist Eric Clapton's racist rant : “This is England, this is a white country, we don't want any black wogs and coons living here....throw the wogs out and keep Britain white”. The police forecast that 5,000 might turn up for the initial Rock Against Racism gig in east London: they were wrong by about 95,000; the changing face of Britain as seen in the 2011 census, which recorded an 85 per cent increase from the previous headcount in people describing themselves as 'mixed or multiple ethnic'.

In addition to the somewhat arbitrary landmarks the exhibition features artworks and exhibits, such as Shao-Jie Lin's Postcards From Nowhere, 65 cards representing the daily average number of people refused entry to Britain over the past 10 years; a batch of Martin Rowson cartoons; a heart-sinking Wall of Shame, consisting of newspaper front pages with immigration stories in 2006 (“It is easier to blame 'the other' rather than ourselves for all that is wrong with our society. And it shames my trade,” says compiler Liz Gerrard); and delightful and moving personal histories and testimonies.

Strong images, powerful words. Definitely worth seeing.

* No Turning Back: Seven Migration Moments that Changed Britain is at the Migration Museum at The Workshop, 26 Lambeth High Street, SE1 7AG.

Info: www.migrationmuseum.org /  @MigrationUK /  MigrationMuseumProject