Art, Identity and Migration
The 20th century was notable for many migrations to Great Britain. The turn of the century was the turn of east European Jews finding refuge here from the Russian pogroms. The 1930s and 1940s saw central European Jews escaping Nazi tyranny before and during the Second World War. The British Nationality Act of 1948 gave citizens of the British colonies status and the right to settle in the UK, encouraging the mass migration of people from the Caribbean to Britain between 1948 and 1970, who were referred to as the Windrush Generation. Following the expulsion of all 50,000 Gujarati Indians from Uganda under the dictator Idi Amin between 1965-1972, many Ugandan Asians came over to Britain. Likewise, the independence of India and Pakistan from British rule in 1947 saw a steady flow of émigrés arriving to Britain, as well as an influx of refugees from Hungary following the defeat of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. Since the expansion of the EU in 2004, the UK has accepted immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe, Malta and Cyprus.
Today, the phrase ‘émigré’ may have a different meaning. So many of us choose to live in other countries for pleasure, work and study, but there remains the same challenge of integration and settling in a foreign land.
It is this study of art, migration and identity that lies at the heart of Ben Uri’s work. We continue to explore the artistic transition of artists today as we have for over a century, and since 2001 irrespective of nationality and religion.
The work and influence of immigrant artists are as important today as it was a century ago when the Jewish émigrés including the Whitechapel Boys, and often overlooked the Whitechapel Girls, made their mark on British Modernism. The first home to so many of the immigrants then was Whitechapel and the East End of London where Ben Uri was founded in 1915, and little has changed since as so many new communities find a home, albeit cramped and impoverished, in the same areas.
This twenty year focus is the genesis of the Ben Uri Research Unit for the study and recording of the Jewish and immigrant contribution to British visual culture since 1900.