Last night ALT’s Editor Joy had the honour of attending the Private View Windrush: Portraits of a Pioneering Generation at the newly opened National Portrait Gallery which includes 10 portraits of trailbrazer and pioneers, featured in the exhibition is Jessie Stephens MBE mother of the celebrated British music artist Leee John of Imagination. The sitters are a symbol of dignity, achievement and leadership.
Friends and family of Jessie and Leee John attended the private view at NPG.
Those in attendence included the actor Colin McFarlane, Leroy Logan, alongside Jessie who was dressed in the pink outfit which she wore when sitting for the portrait painted by artist Sahara Longe. Leee John commented on how he felt seeing his mother’s portrait on the walls at the National Portrait Gallery.
He said. “It’s amazing! I am very happy and very proud. I would like to thank the artist Sahara Longe, of course I am her biggest fan, my mother’s of course, and now the artist. My mother has done so much work in the community for many years in London and this is the prize, the ultimate prize for all the hard work she has done. Not just her but all the other sitters from the Windrush Generation and it is great that they can celebrate and make a tribute to the Windrush Generation, the people who have tirelessly made a huge contribution to and supported the UK over the years. Come out and see this portrait and all the other 10 portraits and the amazing work of all the artists, the Exhibition is here until Aprl 2024”.
A true pioneer and a regal figure at 96, Jessie Stephens MBE trained as a stenographer in St Lucia, Jessie travelled to Britain in 1955 and lived in Finsbury Park with her then husband and two children.
Artist Sahara Longe’s reflection on painting Jessie.
“I was struck by [Jessie’s] wonderful sense of humour and no-nonsense attitude … I painted her looking straight at the viewer, because that’s how Jessie speaks to you when she talks … I feel very honoured to have been asked to paint Jessie and very lucky to have met her. I hope the painting captures what an incredible woman Jessie is and her legacy to Britain.“
Jessie was the first Black woman to work at Companies House and had an active role in the St Lucian Association.
Jessie was part of the #Haringey Police Liaison Group which worked to improve relationships between officers and the community, and in 1982, received an MBE for services to the St Lucian community, and later, the Saint Lucia Piton Gold Medal.
The Exhibition: Windrush: Portraits of a Pioneering Generation
Commemorating the 75th anniversary of HMT Empire Windrush‘s arrival in Britain, Windrush: Portraits of a Pioneering Generation is a display of ten portraits, highlighting the experiences of people who have made positive contributions to the United Kingdom.
Commissioned by His Majesty The King, when Prince of Wales, and lent from the Royal Collection, the portraits honour the accomplishments of the Windrush Generation, men and women who took up jobs in areas such as construction, transport and the NHS, often facing discrimination as they navigated living in a new country and pursued their dream of a better life for their families.
The faces of these sitters are a powerful reminder of personal resilience, determination and the positive impact of diversity across Britain.
The sitters and artists are:
- Delisser Bernard by artist Honor Titus
- Alford Gardner by artist Chloe Cox
- Linda Haye, OBE by artist Shannon Bono
- Edna Henry by artist Amy Sherald
- Carmen Esme Munroe, OBE by artist Sonia Boyce OBE, RA
- Gilda Oliver by artist Clifton Powell
- Professor Sir Godfrey (Geoff) Palmer, OBE, CD by artist Derek Fordjour
- Laceta Reid by artist Serge Attukwei Clottey
- John (Big John) Richards by artist Deanio X
- Jessie Stephens, MBE, SLPM by artist Sahara Longe
The exhibition details National Portrait Gallery London: Entry is FREE
DATES: 9 October 2023 – 1 April 2024 Room 14, Floor 3
St Martin’s Place
London, WC2H 0HE
+44(0)20 7306 0055
Admission free. Donations welcome
Open Daily: 10.30 – 18.00
Friday & Saturday 10.30 – 21.00
More on this exhibition:
A BBC Arts documentary Windrush: Portraits of a Generation with His Majesty The King, was broadcast on BBC Two and is available to watch now on iPlayer to commemorate National Windrush Day on 22 June 2023. WATCH HERE