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V&A/RCA History of Design (MA)

Zarna Hart

West Indian Student Union Newsletter, July 1969. (Cover)
West Indian Student Union Newsletter, July 1969 (Cover). George Padmore Institute. JOU7/4.
"Pathé Reporter Meets-" (1948) Video of Lord Kitchener Singing 'London is the Place for me' FILM ID:1430.37
Two Student Magazines side-by-side, titled BUMBO
BUMBO Magazine: Issue one & two (Sept 1969-1971). Black Cultural Archives.
Reflections of my experience as a listener to Windrush oral histories. Zarna Hart®

Dissertation: In Detail

Not All Trunks Float was an intentional play on words alluding to the fickle nature of tangible/intangible matters of history, and a comment on the state of the Windrush’s historical evidence: historical products like orality and the memory of the past, though immaterial, floats with the passengers and crystallises their lived experience as something to be consumed. The title similarly acknowledges the recurring fact that there is a massive forgetting and loss of the Windrush’s historical existence, in the form of the 2018 Windrush Scandal for example, and the altogether continuity of colonial systems rejecting the existence of the West Indian. The term ‘Windrush,’ as a result has revolutionised in meaning, foreboding its symbolic relationship with the vessel, and instead referring to an entire generation of the British-Caribbean population. As such, throughout this dissertation, the term is used primarily as an adjective— referring to the historical event of the migration of West Indians, as well as the community of people of that time.

Through the acknowledgement of my own Caribbean-ness and its untethered connection to my role as the researcher, there arose a dialogic interaction in the encounter of Windrush print and oral cultures, which widened the epistemic worlds of the West Indian authors/speakers and my situated place as the reader/listener. There is a surge in the corporeality of the voice (through text and sound) in their vigour of performance and the permeation of discourse through a familiar language— both of which are central to Caribbean cultural identity. The evidence of the lived experience, therefore, becomes as collective as it is personal, propelling the notion that the act of reading and listening is necessary in the reckoning of post-independent, post-colonial outputs. Moreover, this symbiosis conjures the overall nature of resistance of these cultures, as the contentions with the need to disrupt are put against the regimented system of production and archiving, resulting in total rejection or limitations to public access. This contrasts, as well as unifies the deliberations of other studies surrounding these cultures, such as West Indian Intellectuals in Britain, where one culture (in this case, the textual) is analysed and there is more of an objective analysis of the written text, as it relates to the authorship of the histories of the Windrush. While there are overlapping themes of self-identity and collective practices of Caribbean discourse identified by Schwarz in the overview of textual materials, I make a point to convey that this in fact exists in the way that orality and the recording of memory takes part in the design of history. 

In order to allow for a breadth of analysis of these cultures, I visited the George Padmore Institute (GPI) and the Black Cultural Archives (BCA) to read and interrogate the printed material of the West Indian Student Union (WISU), as well as literature exclusive to GPI on New Beacon Books; as well as visited the British Library (BL) to listen to oral histories from 1980-2014 of Windrush migrants, containing memories of their voyage to London. Additionally, my interpersonal confrontation of these materials was collated in the form of a journal, reflecting and recording my experience in the act of reading and listening, which I then developed an accompanied methodology in the form of overlapping axes to analyse the power dynamics in the oral histories I listened to at the British Library— this is further explored in Part Two of my dissertation.

Finally, I conducted virtual and email interviews with archivists and curators of the GPI, BCA, BL, and V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum), in order to further contextualise the role of the archive and the process in acquiring Windrush materials such as print and audio recordings. I have intentionally decided not to conduct interviews with Caribbean persons who have migrated to the United Kingdom, as I believe rehashing their experiences would be unethical and I would like to maintain a level of respect and sincerity when approaching their histories. 

This dissertation discusses the paradigm of post-colonial story-telling under the triangle of design history: design, production, consumption, noting that each element cannot exist without the other in the survival of these cultures. The semantic performance of these historical outputs not only engages an ethereal vibrancy for the Caribbean researcher, but also unearths the way in which this alters the call to preserve and consume these histories through their dissemination by institutions or institutionalised systems of the West.

Image of board game, showing the map of the west indies
'The Pirates and Traders of the West Indies', Board Game. Published by William Spooner, 1847, London. Victoria and Albert Museum.

Essay: In Detail

In both games and empire, there is always a winner and a loser. The fictitious worlds and characters in which we inhabit weave us through stories of adventure and discovery: a tale through foreign geographies that we otherwise would not encounter. Spin the ‘teetotum’ and ‘start your voyage’. 1The Pirate and the Traders of the West Indies is a children’s board game published in 1847 by William Spooner, a successful print-seller and entrepreneur. According to the British Map Engravers Dictionary, Spooner was also known for his ‘transformation “protean” scenes, satires, military prints, etc.’What 2 remains at the core of this essay, however, is the place and time in which this object sits: birthed between the establishment of the Royal Geographical Society in 1830 and the empirical rule over Caribbean islands by Britain during the 1900s. With the overarching romanticism of discovery, geographical knowledge and the ideals of the perfect nationalist, it is apparent through revealing evidence that this board game was a metaphorical tool for the colonial indoctrination of Victorian children. 



Zarna originates from Trinidad and Tobago and is an alumna of the RCA/V&A MA History of Design program (2022-23). Her research speaks to studies of (de)colonisation, collective knowledge production, oral histories, the role of the archive and Caribbean material culture.

Key words: (de)coloniality, Caribbean history, Windrush, orality, print culture, West Indies

Image of Zarna Hart wearing a navy blue overalls sitting before shelves of books.

Zarna is a Trinidadian alumna of the V&A/RCA History of Design programme.

The unique mêlée of her Caribbean heritage and academic background inform her sensibilities in art direction and a global perspective of culture. In her research/writing practice, she is especially drawn to orality and (de)colonial practices of history-making.

During the MA, Zarna's research work explored the intersection between print culture and oral histories by and of the Windrush: a personal inquiry into the way that Caribbean people took ownership of their own history, and the connections that enveloped in her position as a Caribbean researcher.

Simultaneously, Zarna was involved in a 6-month student placement with the Victoria and Albert Museum where she was actively involved in cataloguing, conservation, and research/curatorial tasks for both Design& Digital and Africa&Diaspora collections. Through this opportunity, she has contributed to the Patric Prince display (2023), the Between Two Worlds exhibition (2023), the Global Africa site (2023) and created reflections such as "Machine Imaginaire: the dance of hands and machine thinking" on the V&A blog.

Following her time at the RCA, she will be speaking at the "Wi Deh Yah" conference by The Caribbean Fashion and Design Research Network, about her encountering of the Caribbean voice in oral histories, as well as curating both exhibitions: "Do you buy this?" and "Keep In Touch: the poetics of home."