Croydon’s Caribbean Influencers
Along with the Museum of Croydon, artist Kyam and Poet Laureate Shaniqua Benjamin, we explore stories of the Caribbean community and influencers who have made an impact on the borough. In collaboration with local volunteer Citizen Researchers, we creatively focus on the lives Croydon residents who have shaped Croydon through their Caribbean roots but are often uncredited or underrepresented using archive material, oral history, spoken word and portraits.
9 October – 12 February: National Portrait Gallery
An edit of the Citizen UK Croydon’s Caribbean Influencers display is on display at the National Portrait Gallery from October 2023 – February 2024.
Inspired by the record shop and the established Caribbean tradition of sharing stories and songs, see new portraits created by artist Kyam and poetry by Croydon’s first Poet Laureate Shaniqua Benjamin, inspired by the stories of some of Croydon’s Caribbean influencers.
This display by Abi Wright Design features archive material from the National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of Croydon alongside a soundscape that includes oral histories collected by local volunteer Citizen Researchers and poetry that gives an insight into the lives of Croydonites including the Met’s first female Black police officer Sislin Fay Allen, professional boxers and brothers Clinton and Duke McKenzie and composer Ken Burton.
14 April – 21 July: Museum of Croydon
Inspired by the record shop and the established Caribbean tradition of sharing stories and songs, this exhibition featured new portraits created by artist Kyam and poetry by Croydon’s first Poet Laureate Shaniqua Benjamin, inspired by the stories of some of Croydon’s Caribbean influencers.
This new display by Abi Wright Design featured archive material from the National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of Croydon alongside oral histories collected by local volunteer Citizen Researchers that give an insight into the lives of Croydonites including the Met’s first female Black police officer Sislin Fay Allen, professional boxers and brothers Clinton and Duke McKenzie and composer Ken Burton.
The exhibition ran 14 April – 21 July at the Museum of Croydon.
Citizen Researchers from the borough of Croydon with an interest and connection to Caribbean heritage have helped research and collect new oral histories of people bringing their Caribbean influence to their work, life and community.
Artist – Kyam
Kyam is a graphic illustrator and visual arts facilitator from South London. Her art draws on oral history, using bold and block colours to capture the stories of Black individuals and communities through portraiture.
She is the founder of the Deep&Flow series - a community conversation using guided drawing exercises to promote QTIPOC (Queer, Trans, Intersex, People of Colour) and POC discussion and healing, hosted by The Feminist Library.
With a background in graphic design for arts charities, Kyam has designed for arts organisations such as Shoreditch Town Hall, Youth Music, Sound Connections, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and Talawa Theatre Company. She was a recent trustee for The Museum of Ordinary People and is the current Digital Creator for performance charity Clod Ensemble.
Kyam is now the lead artist for the National Portrait Gallery and Museum of Croydon’s Citizen UK: Caribbean Influencers project.
Siannarah Millanaise, by Kyam Arts, 2023
Poet – Shaniqua Benjamin
Shaniqua is a poet, writer, creative workshop facilitator, and Croydon’s first Poet Laureate. She draws inspiration from what sets her blood, heart and soul on fire to create meaningful pieces of writing. Between 2016-2021, she ran Young People Insight CIC, a platform that empowered young people through creativity, conversation and writing, and included monthly poetry night, Poetic Insight.
Shaniqua wrote the lyrics for the London Mozart Players’ Anthem for Peace, a specially commissioned poem for the reopening of South London’s biggest arts centre, Fairfield Halls, and poems for both of Croydon’s bids for London Borough of Culture. She also wrote a poem for The Black Fund and One Young World that was shared at the 2022 One Young World Summit, read by Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Ebinehita Iyere and Shaniqua. She has been published by Ink, Sweat & Tears.
She has performed at a number of events, including the Thornton Heath Lights Festival, Field Day Festival, Trinity College Cambridge Black History Month Formal Dinner, and as part of Apples & Snakes’ immersive spoken word show, Rallying Cry. She has facilitated workshops for Spread The Word, Central St Martins, Writerz & Scribez, Total Insight Theatre and Stanley Arts. Shaniqua was also part of the organising team behind the Living in Poetry Festival in 2018 and 2019.
You can stay updated with Shaniqua's work and activities by following her on Instagram: @shaniquabenjamin_
Read Shaniqua’s poem about Croydon’s Sislin Fay Allen, the Britain’s first Black female police officer.
A different time not so distant,
history made by existing
in a new land,
to do what was enjoyed
in change of direction.
She was curious –
should have been in kitchen
not on street
wearing chess colours,
a hat on her head
told you what she was all about.
A fighter for justice
and new tomorrows,
when her face wouldn’t be alien
and legs wouldn’t be broken
in races against reporters
intent on fanning flames.
Hear Shaniqua reading ‘A Palace of Magic and Memories’, the poem she produced for the re-opening of Fairfield Halls.
What we looked at and what we did
Citizen Researchers took part in two skills workshops learning how to search and research using archives and how to collate oral histories.
We looked at connections to Croydon in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, and representations of the Caribbean community more broadly.
Croydon Caribbean connections
Ian Wright, part dad, part footballer, and part boy from south London born to Jamaican parents, Herbert and Nesta. ‘I’m proud of being those things, but it’s been hard to make them all sit nicely together.’
Jamaican SKA and reggae singer-songwriter Desmond Aldophos Dacres topped the chart with the UK’s first reggae number one single ‘Israelites’ in 1969. He travelled from Kingston in Jamaica to Thornton Heath in Croydon, where he lived for a significant part of his life and died in 2006.
Ignatius Sancho (c. 1729 – 14 December 1780)
Ignatius Sancho was born on a slave ship in the mid-Atlantic. He was given to three sisters in Greenwich but ran away and became butler to the Duke and Duchess of Montagu. Here he indulged his passion for reading and writing. He was welcomed by London's literary and artistic set, and was painted by Thomas Gainsborough. In 1773 he opened a grocery shop in Westminster with a legacy from the Duchess. He became the first African prose writer published in England.
Novelist Andrea Levy was born in London to Jamaican parents. She began writing in her early thirties after studying textile design and becoming an avid reader. Andrea was the author of a number of novels which explore the problems faced by black British-born children of Jamaican emigrants including the semi-autobiographical Every Light in the House Burnin' (1994).
Born Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr. in Croydon to Ghanaian parents, Stormzy began rapping aged eleven and gained attention on the underground music scene through his Wicked Skengman freestyles. His debut EP Dreamers Disease was self-released in 2014. It became the first freestyle to reach the charts and earned him the Best Grime Act at the MOBO awards in both 2014 and again in 2015. Stormzy is a strong and active supporter of minority groups and is currently funding two scholarships at Cambridge University.
Composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor grew up in Croydon, his father was from Sierra Leone. Aged about seven, Coleridge-Taylor posed for painters associated with Croydon Art Club. According to his sister, 'They put a basin on his head and a shawl round his shoulders so he looks a bit African'; but here he can be seen wearing a plain cap and tunic. Two versions of the portrait exist, painted by different artists at differing angles. This one was purchased from the composer's family.
Funded by The National Heritage Lottery Fund and Art Fund