The Front Room: Diaspora migrant aesthetics in the Home

Sat 07 May 2022, 12.05-12.25

Dr Michael McMillan, University of the Arts London

From the gaze of the post-Windrush generation, growing up and living Black in Britain, the public domain of the street has been the site of resistance for Black youth (often coded as male) against being Othered in a racist society.

In the British popular imaginary, Black youth have also been designated living on the street as if they had no homes to go to, and no families with values. On the contrary, the private realm of the Black home, was where Black youth had to ‘fix up’ and domestic creative agency of Black women was often expressed through our being and becoming.

The front room therefore signifies the liminal space between the public and private of realms of Black life, where intergenerational identification, belonging, rebelliousness (read back chat and rudeness) and resistance is enacted.This will be visually shown in this presentation with documentation of The West Indian Front Room, which was the Geffrye Museum’s most popular exhibition, because in speaking to ‘a kind of truth’ after Toni Morrison, about the material culture of front rooms created by Caribbean migrant families, it also spoke to other migrant and white working communities about shared aesthetics in the home.

Dr Michael McMillan (C) EM Fitzgerald 2021

With apologies, the recording of Dr Michael McMillian from this conference is not available. However, you can watch an extended version of his presentation via North Herts African and Caribbean Community.

The Front Room is now a permanent 1970s period room at the Museum of the Home (formerly the Geffrye Museum), which in the context of decolonising the museum, speaks to the resilience, durability and cultural political intervention of the post-Windrush generation in transforming British society. James Baldwin suggests that history is not in the past, but in the present, because we carry our histories with us. How then is this represented in our material culture?

About the speaker

Michael McMillan is a London based writer, playwright, artist/curator and academic, known for his critically acclaimed installation-based exhibition, The West Indian Front Room, which was the Geffrye Museum’s successful exhibition (2005-06). It has been iterated in The Netherlands, Curacao, Johannesburg and France, the basis of the BBC4 documentary Tales from the Front Room (2007) and his book, The Front Room: Migrant Aesthetics in the Home (2009). The Front Room is now a permanent 1970s period room Museum of the Home (formerly the Geffrye Museum) – as well as his triptych film installation Waiting for myself to appear. The Front Room will also be part of the Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art 1950s-Now at Tate Britain (December 2021-April 2022). Other work in 2021 includes: Sonic Vibrations Sound systems, lovers rock and dub – and the short film Walking in the Wake. He is currently an Associate Lecturer in Cultural & Historical Studies at London College of Fashion (University of the Arts London), and Research Associate with VIAD (University of Johannesburg).