Andrew Jackson: From a Small Island / Reviewed by Camilla Brown / 18.06.18
Andrew Jackson is a photographer with a long pedigree of producing sincere and empathetic photography projects. This exhibition is a very moving and personal look at migration from Jamaica.
For Jackson, the bridge between Jamaica and the UK has been his mother; aptly, the work traces his own personal narrative. We hear about his mother, Amy’s, family history and what would transpire to be her life-changing decision in 1956 to leave Jamaica. It then provides, through his images and beautifully crafted texts which appear throughout the exhibition, an account of his mother’s descent into old age, and more particularly, dementia.
However, Jackson makes this about so much more than his personal life, offering us timely insights into, as Eddie Chambers eloquently outlines in his text, “the familial effects and consequences of migration across generations”. Jackson has spent time with his mother and other families in Dudley, Birmingham. He also visited Jamaica in 2017, which was his first ever visit. The texts reflect how notions of ‘home’ for subsequent generations becomes a complex mix of their current life in the UK and the filtered memories, constructed through their parents, of life in Jamaica. Inevitably with little opportunity to travel back and forth this memory of Jamaica is stuck in the past and collaged from personal anecdotes.
In his work from Jamaica, we see glimpses of the reality of life there. There are the paradise-like tropical plants and vegetation but also run-down houses. A poignant diptych seems to encapsulate the new Jamaica –a large luxury cruise liner is docked in a bay shown alongside the impoverished landscape of contemporary life there – with broken down cars and graffiti. It appears to be a very disjointed world of the haves, living in a bubble of advantage, contrasted with the have-nots, kept in a cage of deprivation.
All of Jackson’s subjects have a pensive, reflective look when photographed which suits the tenor and message of his work. It is layered and complex and that is conveyed well in the installation and presentation. Various sizes of prints are used: small intimate ones to convey the fragility of life and the delicacy of the subject, larger works to show the landscape placing the work in a wider context. Old photographs are included, re-photographed and held by their owners, suggesting the important place they have played in maintaining memories of the past. A vitrine in the space includes personal objects from his mother, it seems a process of grieving her present absence has already begun.
The show conveys the momentous decision the first generation made. We see young women and men from the UK who are now the age that their grandparents would have been when they stepped on the boats. It is unfathomable how severing those links from their past would have felt – it was to be the last time Jackson’s mother would ever see her father. We know some of the things that generation faced when they arrived in the UK, mainly through oral archives and literature, the shock of the cold and the chimneys and the first-time experience of racism. In recent months the shameful treatment of the Windrush years’ migrants in the UK has made headlines in the media once again. Unpleasant and all too frequent questioning of their status as UK citizens by the Home Office must reinforce their own sense of not being sure where home is.
Jackson’s images and writing place us firmly in his shoes as a son of a Jamaican migrant living in the UK. Through the work, we gain a moving insight into how that might feel in a sensitive and powerful way that does not in any way lecture but certainly does inform.
– reviewed for Photomonitor by Camilla Brown
Andrew Jackson: From a Small Island continues at mac birmingham until 8th July 2018 and is accompanied by a publication (Midland Art Centre publishers) distributed by Cornerhouse Publications (ISBN 9781907796227)
Below: ‘Ship, Kingston Jamaica’ © Andrew Jackson
Cannon Hill Park
Birmingham, B12 9QH