Purnima – ‘Everything Came to Life in the Spring’ by Julia Hall 2024

(Purnima, Uganda – 75 x 55cm)

Purnima arrived in London at the age of 10 in November 1972, on a flight from Uganda, when Idi Amin expelled the Asian community after seizing power. Her family had offers from many different countries as refugees, but they chose England. Uganda had been a paradise, but she remembers the army suddenly appearing on the streets, and women being sent indoors under a curfew. Everyone helped each other to buy plane tickets when they were trying to depart at the airport. She was sad to leave her dogs and friends, but excited to go to England. Her first memories are of Guy Fawkes, milk bottles freezing on the doorstep, an ice cream van, letters being delivered to the door, tonsillitis and Autumn. Although she spoke English, school was still a shock. She was better in maths, English and geography than the other children, but school dinners were challenging, she didn’t even recognise mashed potato and stew. One day in the spring, as Purnima was walking to school, she saw a daffodil, and clouds of pink flowers appeared on the black trees, she had never experienced seasons like that before, it was a total surprise!

Purnima’s parents saw themselves as refugees, but her father was an optimistic entrepreneur. The Ugandan community helped find each other work, they had a huge work ethic and took any job they could. Her mother worked in a lightbulb factory, her father bought a newsagents and helped other people to get bank loans. Because all the family were together, she never saw them sad or lonely. They dressed in a western way, her mum bought her first pair of trousers in C&A, there was a feeling that to change dress code was a way to assimilate.

In 2022, Purnima was interviewed about this dress by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, as part of their series ‘Threads’. The dress had been hand knitted for her in Uganda when she was 8 or 9 years old. When she had to leave suddenly, she was only allowed to take one small suitcase, and she chose to put this dress in it. It brings back memories of all the mothers sitting on verandas at siesta time, sharing their skills and chatting together. Over 50 years later, she still has the dress carefully wrapped and cherished.

SKU JU/HA007 Artist

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