To mark the centenary of the Aliens Act, the Jewish Museum’s exhibition Closing the Door? explores how immigration has affected British life over the last century and provides a fresh look at the controversial issue.
It will illustrate how migrant and refugee communities have struggled and survived, despite the restrictions on their right of entry, and how they have enriched and enhanced British society.
This original and significant exhibition examines the arguments used to oppose Jewish immigration in 1905, and how they have been endlessly recycled as new groups of immigrants arrive in changing political and economic circumstances. The exhibition will draw on personal stories, photographs, objects and documents from individuals who have settled in the UK from all over the world, to consider issues that have affected different generations of immigrants - the challenges to find housing, employment and healthcare, to acquire a new language while retaining valued cultural traditions, and the hostility often encountered from the existing community.
The exhibition also explores how generations of migrants have found a place in British society, how their food, language and cultural traditions have become part of mainstream culture, from bagels to curry to carnival. Their economic contribution is considerable, with immigrants today contributing 10% more to the economy in taxes than they consume in public services. Cities such as London have benefited at every level from immigrant labour, from the clothing businesses built up by Jewish and South Asian migrants, to the Commonwealth doctors and nurses who supported the new welfare state.
The exhibition displays reflect the rich variety of cultures that flourish in Britain today as well as case studies highlighting the experiences of the individuals who have made their own difficult journeys to settle here. Documents, photographs, textiles, religious objects, cooking utensils and musical instruments are among the many colourful exhibits. Paintings and sculpture by first and second generation artists such as Chris Ofili, Edori Fertig, Qu Lei lei, Sula Chance, Amal Ghosh and David Breuer Weil explore the themes of identity and migration.