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Rebellion to Romance Exhibition

Two weeks ago sound mag was kindly invited by Mark Iration to the opening of the 'out of many' festival, organised by Jamaica Society Leeds. Six months of events, music, talks and a play set up to celebrate 60 years of Jamaican independence, all starting at Leeds art gallery, where the exhibition 'rebellion to romance' will carry on to the 29th October 2022.

At the opening, many who had participated in or supported the exhibition attended whilst rum punch, mini patties and fish fritters were provided around the room and old friends caught up. The feeling of community was immediate and warm.

Susan Pitter, the festival director and Jamaica Society Leeds leader, curated the exhibition of photos, clothes, newspaper cuttings, posters and record players. When she asked the community of second-generation Jamaicans for these items to display, people often responded "oh these are just photos of parties and christenings". Differentiating from her elders' generation, who tended to keep everything from mortgage applications to receipts and bills, the second generation was forging a new sense of being black and British.

Susan also highlighted how the topic of Jamaicans in Britain is often centred around Jamaicans in London. Rebellion to romance was here to display the varied and vibrant lives in Chapeltown, telling Leeds' story. Potternewton park was spoken of highly. How this community couldn't live freely outside this area due to racial discrimination gave the park a vital role as what they created in the small space became something which shaped many lives today.

Norman too tall Frances, a valued member of this community, is quoted in the exhibition, "the community was a lot tighter because it was detrimental for us if we went beyond it individually", a stark reminder of the trials this community has faced and carried on through.

Norman was asked to say a few words, he spoke of playing basketball as a youth, and now coaching, when he wavered off the right path, his elders reminded him of his importance, of his talent, directing him to the right path and now, many years on, he's still passing that message down to the youth in Chapeltown today.

"Communication moved quicker than a mobile phone," Norman told us of how anything that happened at the community centre located at the bottom of Chapeltown, word would be back with his mum at the top of Chapeltown before he had the chance to get home, which highlights the tight nit family this place became for him.

Susan Pitter noted the absence of individual achievements, of which there will be many to choose from, but this wasn't a story of black people certifying themselves in Leeds, "we do not need to prove our place here". These people are part of Leeds' tapestry, this is Leeds.

The speeches were concluded with playing Janet Kay's 'silly games' which got the crowd joining in. The noise was joyful and cathartic, and when Janet reached for the highest note, broke out into a lot of laughter.

Downstairs in the exhibition, friends pointed each other out in photographs hung proudly around the room, took their photos together, and talked about nights they remembered and people they knew. A perfectly formed time capsule of this era in Leeds.

Words by Rosanna Loach

Photos by Rosanna Loach/Jack Young

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