Born in England to parents of Jamaican descent, Anderson uses the complex mental landscapes of works such as Barbershop to explore his own personal relationship with his Jamaican heritage. From the late 1940s to the mid 1960s the so-called ‘Windrush’ generation of Caribbean migrants arrived and set up home in Britain. The Britain they arrived in, however, was not necessarily welcoming – a reception that Anderson’s parents would, to some degree, have encountered when they moved to Birmingham from Jamaica. Exiled from white churches, bars, pubs and, perhaps most poignantly for Barbershop, hairdressers, migrants established their own makeshift congregations, social clubs, hair salons and barbershops in each other’s flats and houses. “The black barbershop represented more than a much-needed amenity. Instead, it represented a space of comfort, affirmation of self, and a certain double consciousness. Within the black barbershop, such things as current affairs, sport, and music in the UK could be passionately discussed and argued over at the same time that equally nuanced observations were being made in the Caribbean. Many black people in Britain found that a substantial sense of self could only be maintained if they continually availed themselves of understandings of aspects of the country to which they had migrated, alongside corresponding familiarities with the cultural life they had left behind” (Ibid., p. 71).
In the present work, two barbershop chairs sit at jaunty angles, one with a teal gown thrown over its arm, and both with scraps of hair scattered on the floor as though its’ sitters have only just vacated the shop. In doing so, Anderson masterfully conveys both presence and absence, figuration and abstraction and ultimately permeates the scene with an overwhelming sense of loss. An incandescent, icy blue wall on which a flurry of geometric blocks of crimson red, magenta and orange appear to mysteriously hover commandeers the painting. Set against the rigid parallel lines that delineate the ceiling, lights, floor tiles and rigid furnishings, these translucent, hazy blocks of colour suggest that the scene operates in an almost indeterminate, otherworldly space. As such, Barbershop ingeniously captures the disorientated and displaced cultural landscape of Caribbean immigrants in an extraordinary and innovative manner.
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