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A Joyful Challenge

1st December 2020

Susan Pitter, Consultant, Jamaica Society

Susan Pitter

Susan Pitter has imaginatively brought to life the stories of the Jamaican community of Leeds for the benefit of everyone associated with the city.

This year on August 1, 2020 – Emancipation Day in Jamaica and Yorkshire Day - she curated a gallery of 40 images of residents who arrived during the 1940s to 1960s, transformed from black and white into colour.

Susan says: “It is more important than ever that we tell the true story of our city and all its communities.

“Seeing how colour transformed black and white pictures, some of which I have looked at for my entire life, was absolutely breath-taking.”

“They bring to life unexpected details: from the patterns on outfits, to the architecture of the buildings and the hopes and dreams in the eyes of a generation who arrived as young people. It is both incredibly moving and an honour to be part of that.”

The ‘Back To Life’ exhibition also helped to highlight the lives and contributions of Jamaicans who came to Leeds in search of opportunity and who helped build the city, along with the industries and sectors that the city benefits from today.

“Whittling it down to 40 photos was a joyful challenge. It was hugely important that where possible, I worked closely with the family and friends of those featured in ‘Back to Life’ to make sure that the colour transformations were as faithful as possible to shades of outfits and surroundings but most importantly skin colour and tones.” Susan says.

The exhibition was made possible by emergency Covid-19 funding from The National Lottery’s Active Community Engagement Fund and follows the legacy of an earlier exhibition in 2019, called the ‘Eulogy Project’ which was also supported by ACE and The National Lottery Heritage Fund. The final images were drawn from the hundreds that had been gathered for the ‘Eulogy Project’ which illuminated the lives of first generation Jamaicans who arrived in the 1940s – 60s.

Susan says of the Eulogy Project: “In 2018, a year to the day after losing my father, we buried one of his dearest friends. In pulling together the eulogy and photographs for the order of service for my father’s funeral, and then seeing the same thing happen again for his friend’s funeral, it occurred to me that the information that’s typically collated for Jamaican and other West Indian funeral programmes tells one life story. I believed that if one funeral programme tells a singular life story then a collection can tell the story of a generation, and so Eulogy was born.

“I worked really closely with a good friend of mine Dawn Cameron, who also has Jamaican heritage, and we approached The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Jamaica Society Leeds to say that we’d like to do the project with the Society and the local community.

“It was very much about making sure that an under-represented, and sometimes invisible, story that’s part of the history of Leeds was told. I know that’s what the Jamaica Society has been all about since its inception in 1977, so it was a great fit. However, without support of the local community and of course The National Lottery, Eulogy would not have happened. It was an ambitious project, it was multi-platform and it included community outreach, writing a book and pulling together a record-breaking exhibition that was the most visited exhibition for Leeds Central Library in its history. Most of all it was saying that the story of Leeds cannot be truthfully told without including the stories and contributions of the lives of my parents’ generation – British citizens of the Commonwealth who were asked to come and shape the UK’s cities that we know today.”

“None of that could have happened without the support of The National Lottery Heritage Fund and other partners and funders in Leeds, nationally and in Jamaica.”