Inspired by Andrea Levy’s Small Island and Helen Edmundson’s adaption for the National Theatre, photographer Ronan McKenzie has been commissioned by the National Theatre to respond to the post war journeys undertaken by Caribbean men and women between 1948 -1971. Photographed in Leigh-on-Sea on the shores of the Thames estuary, McKenzie’s documentary style images subtly connect ideas of seascapes, water, arrivals and new beginnings to Levy’s Small Island.

Ronan Mckenzie is a photographer, director and curator from Walthamstow, North East London. He has worked with brands including Nike, Stella McCartney and Universal Standard, and publications including i-D, Vogue US and The Travel Almanac. McKenzie said: “For me this series represents the multiplicity and diversity in experiences of Caribbean immigrants, that begun in 1948 with the arrival of the Empire Windrush. Both being islands, The Caribbean and United Kingdom are linked by water, which inspired the artistic direction for the series. Similarly, immigration and personal journeys are sentiments that many people can relate to on a number of levels, and the clusters of people within my images aim to depict the connection between many of these stories.”

Curated by Natasha Bonnelame, the exhibition takes water as a central theme reflected not only in terms of the location but also in the colour of the textiles and the intricate finger waves of the hairstyles. Beautifully crafted shots of individuals are grouped with images of the collective, an important and significant detail in the development of the African Caribbean experience in the UK. The subjects in the photographs are all theatre makers living in or around London today. Bonnelame holds a PhD from the Centre for Caribbean and Diaspora Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London where she has taught on Black British Literature and Caribbean Women’s Writing. She is Archive Associate at the National Theatre and is currently writing a book on black British theatre to be published in 2020.

Natasha Bonnelame said: “The majority of Windrush images are of young men, but women were there too. They were defiant and purposeful. We see this in Andrea Levy’s Small Island and Ronan McKenzie’s considered and arresting images centre the women in the collective. This is both important and necessary.”

The exhibition Ronan McKenzie: Photographs can be seen in the Lyttelton Lounge, National Theatre, South Bank, SE1 8XX from Friday 3 May until September. Admission: Free.

Related Talks and Events

Caribbean Women’s Diaspora: Calling the West Indies Sat 18 May 2019, 2pm

The Stuart Hall Project (film screening) Mon 20 May 2019, 6.30pm

A New Beacon: Caribbean Artists Movement Thu 23 May 2019, 6.30pm