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Award-winning Caribbean Artist celebrates Windrush with a new one-woman exhibition. Profile Interview By Genevive Ward

Helen France, receiving her MBE in 2005 for services to the Arts and the Community of Yorkshire.

Helen France, receiving her MBE in 2005 for services to the Arts and the Community of Yorkshire.

Helen France MBE, a woman from Nevis, was not just a member of the Caribbean Windrush Generation that contributed to rebuilding post-war Britain but also a significant contributor to the art scene. Although she initially planned to settle in London, where she had strong ties with friends and relatives, she ultimately made her home in Yorkshire, where her brother lived.

Leeds City Council – the exhibition funders.

Q: When did you discover your love for Art?

A: Growing up in the Caribbean, I discovered I could make paints from the plants in our garden. I used stones as canvases and adorned the flamboyant tree with my carvings. Attending an art college was my dream, but it was impossible in the Caribbean. However, this didn’t deter me. I was determined to pursue my passion for art and found a way to do so.

Q: What was it like coming to the UK in the ’60s from the Caribbean?

A: Upon arriving in the UK from the Caribbean in the 60s, I was surprised to find that people didn’t talk to each other as they do back home. I experienced racism, which was unexpected, but I also found friendship with some great Yorkshire people who made me feel welcome.

Q: What was it like attending Art College in the 60’s?

A: Attending Art College in the UK was not just a dream but a testament to my passion and dedication as a young woman in the Caribbean. As a black Art student, I faced numerous challenges but was determined to learn and develop my skills. Despite feeling isolated, I immersed myself in various art courses and techniques, ultimately leading to my extensive skills and knowledge as an art maker.

Mother and Child by Helen France MBE
Mother and Child by Helen France MBE

Q: What is your most significant achievement as an artist?

A: I have received several awards, including an MBE for my service to Art and the Community of Yorkshire. Receiving the MBE from Prince Charles at the Palace was a truly unforgettable experience for me as a woman from Nevis. These achievements are not just personal milestones, but they also represent the recognition of the value of art and the contributions of the Caribbean community to the UK.

Q: What art exhibitions or projects do you have next?

A: I am thrilled to announce my upcoming exhibition, ‘Windrush Stories’. This is not just another art exhibition but a unique opportunity to delve into the rich history and culture of the Windrush Generation and my Caribbean heritage. I am grateful for the funding from Leeds City Council, which has made my dream of a one-woman Windrush exhibition come true. I am looking forward to seeing you there!

The ‘Windrush Stories’ exhibition will be held at the Shine Community and Business Hub in Hare Hills, Leeds, LS8 5HS.

The exhibition opens on the 17th of June and will run for six months.

Opening hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and admission is free.

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