70 Objeks & Tings exhibition celebrates Caribbean culture and the Windrush Generation at York Castle Museum

Lynda Burrell, left, and Catherine Ross, founders of Museumand and curators of 70 Objeks & Tings at York Castle Museum, Picture: Gareth Buddo

70 OBJEKS & Tings, a celebration of 75 years of Caribbean culture, showcases 70 items that connect us to the Windrush Generation at York Castle Museum until November 4.

Billed as an “extraordinary exhibition of the ordinary”, in keeping with the philosophy of museum founder Dr John Lamplugh Kirk, it features objects that combine familiarity and practicality and have been passed down the generations.

The “small but powerful” show is being brought to York by Museumand, the National Caribbean Heritage Museum, founded by mother-and-daughter team Catherine Ross and Lynda Burrell, whose research began by interviewing 184 Caribbean elders, asking them to share stories and objects.

These inspiring women have created this unique travelling exhibition as a “fun and informative” way to share more about the Windrush Generation and their descendants, shown first at the Streetlife Museum in Hull in 2021, at the invitation of Karen Okra, then Nottingham Castle last year. Now York, where one room, York Voices, focuses on Yorkshire Caribbean stories from 80-year-olds to 20-year-olds.

70 Objeks & Tings is a chance to explore their experiences and lives through cooking and household goods, food packaging and beauty supplies, funeral items, music, games, books, newspapers, Caribbean sayings, riddles and songs and more, displayed in wooden furniture that echoes the design of Caribbean sound systems.  

One of the exhibition displays at 70 Objeks & Tings based on a Caribbean sound system design

Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech features, so does Claudia Jones (1915-1964), the “Mother of the Caribbean carnival” in the UK as the organiser of Notting Hill Carnival. Both appear in a hardback “coffee table” book by Catherine and Lynda, available in the York Castle Museum shop.

Museumand co-founder Catherine Ross says: “We are so elated to bring 70 Objeks & Tings to York. As aspects of Caribbean culture are so entwined with British culture and Yorkshire’s cultural traditions especially, this leg of our tour across the UK is particularly exciting for us.

“We hope to eke out more stories from people of the Caribbean diaspora and others that know about the islands and their peoples. Together, with York Museums Trust, we hope from our time in York, we will be able to add new stories and information from people of the Caribbean diaspora in York and the surrounding areas to the growing archive of the Caribbean presence and contribution to British life.”

Lynda Burrell says: “When people say ‘there is no Caribbean connection in York’, inevitably there is the African and Caribbean connection in Yorkshire through the slave trade. Then came the Windrush Generation.

“Mum came to Nottingham from St Kitts at the age of seven, and like Leeds, where I was born, there is a strong Kittish community. In fact the very first Carnival was held in Nottingham in response to rioting in 1957, looking to bring communities together.”

Catherine Ross and Lynda Burrell, of Museumand, with Philip Newton, community participation manager at York Museums Trust. Picture: Gareth Buddo

Lynda is driven by a desire for change. “I’m tired of people just taking from our culture, where they think we are cool; they sexualise our women; they want to be as physically strong as our men, and they love our music, but they can still treat us as lesser,” she says.

“I don’t want conversations, I want action, and by doing this exhibition, I hope they understand our culture more, hopefully changing how people think of us, but it will be a slow process.

“That’s why it’s important that museums are working with Museumand, because we’re more than a museum. We make films, we write books, we make plays, and host the Objeks & Tings podcast. In series two, I’m going to invite guests to my home to cook for them and discuss Caribbean culture and objects.”

Philip Newton, community participation manager at York Museums Trust, says: “The trust doesn’t have any items of Caribbean culture in its collections, but we always want to learn about cultures that are in York and beyond, and that’s why we wanted to work with a Black-led organisation.

“Museumand first contacted us during the pandemic, when the timing wasn’t right, with everything that was going on, but then got back in touch last November, after they’d done the shows in Hull and Nottingham.

Culinary “objeks & tings” from 70 Objeks & Tings, on display at York Castle Museum

“What sold it to us was that it featured everyday objects with interesting histories, so although it’s Caribbean culture, a lot of these items are familiar to everyone, and it’s not a separate history but a connected history.”

Philip continues: “What an insight into the lives of this generation this exhibition gives us. Little pieces of the Caribbean, which arrived on the landing of SS Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks on June 22 1948, carrying passengers from the Caribbean who had been invited by Britain to help with post-war construction.

“These items continued to play a part in the new lives that this generation embarked upon, passing them down to their children and incorporating into British identity too. The title, and interpretation, has a nod to patois, a traditional form of language for many Caribbeans, with ‘objeks and tings’ referring to the things that Caribbeans, especially those of the Windrush Generation, hold dear and are important to them.

“We are really proud to collaborate with Museumand and delighted to bring this gem of an exhibition to York Castle Museum, where its ethos and inspiration fits well within our displays. This exhibition will allow us to develop our collection and stories to ensure that in the future Caribbean lives and experiences are reflected by York Museums Trust.”

70 Objeks & Tings runs at York Castle Museum, Eye of York, York, until November 4. Opening hours: Monday, 11am to 5pm; Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm. Tickets: yorkcastlemuseum.org.uk