Sharjah Biennial 15
7 February - 11 June 2023
Entitled Burden of Proof, this new body of work reflects on the stories of individuals touched by what the journalist Amelia Gentleman has described as “The Windrush Betrayal”. The work considers the extensive reach of the Windrush scandal through portraits of those affected by the actions of a hostile state. Betrayed by the same authority that had once extended a warmer welcome to Britain, families and wider communities were left fearing for their futures outside the country they call home.
Having placed the burden of proof on individuals, the Home Office demanded to see evidence that would prove their right to stay in the UK. In the absence of passports or official papers such as landing cards, personal records, medical notes, dockets, and receipts were among the documents used to verify UK residency and to build a case to remain. Across this series of large-scale drawings, my work centres on the evidence that helped to prove the legitimacy of those the British government had wrongly labelled as ‘undocumented migrants’. From an invoice for legal services to a temporary certificate of discharge from the military, the work features hand-drawn facsimiles of original documents sourced from personal and public archives with portraits overlaid.
Burden of Proof returns to an approach taken in my earlier series Louder than Words (2006-09). With portraits drawn onto copies of press cuttings and police records, the work similarly explored the identity of the subject in relation to society and the state. As a point of difference, however, the documents in the new work are hand-rendered, recognising the value of the document as an extension of the portrait and now attached intrinsically to the identity of the subject through their experience of the Windrush scandal.
Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation, with the support of The Whitworth, University of Manchester
Courtesy of the artist and Sharjah Foundation