The post-WW2 mass migration to Britain from the Caribbean, starting from the June 1948 arrival at Tilbury of the Empire Windrush and culminating in the restrictive Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1962, had brought Caribbean people together who would probably not otherwise have had an opportunity to meet, bearing in mind the distance between various islands and the restricted opportunity for inter-island travel. Among these migrants were writers, visual artists, musicians, theatre practitioners, professionals and intellectuals, a number of whom formed the Caribbean Artists’ Movement in December 1966.
"What was to become the Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM) started in December 1966 in my Bloomsbury basement flat. I had recently arrived from the Caribbean on study leave to Britain, and as a writer myself, wanted, quite naturally, to get in touch with as many Caribbean artists as possible. But where were they? The novelists’ books were being regularly published; at the Commonwealth Arts Festival I had seen work by a few painters, designers and sculptors from the Caribbean; but no one seemed to know how to get in touch with them. In addition it seemed to me that our West Indian artists were not participating significantly in the cultural life of the country that has become their home. Since 1950, nearly every West Indian novelist worth the name had come to London and more than a hundred books had come from their typewriters and pens. But despite this, the British public didn’t seem to be very much aware of the nature and value of this contribution. ...This situation, it seemed to me, was something to be deplored. The isolation of West Indian writers from each other and from the society in which they lived could eventually only stultify development and could do nothing to contribute to perhaps the most important problem of our times – the problem of the future of race relations in Britain."
The Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM) was a seminal cultural initiative centred in London, focused on work being produced by Caribbean writers, visual artists, poets, dramatists, filmmakers, actors and musicians. The key people involved in setting up CAM were poet/essayist/griot Edward Kamau Brathwaite, publisher/writer/activist John La Rose, and novelist/poet Andrew Salkey. In 1968 Brathwaite wrote of its origins:
The Caribbean Artists Movement
Both Jessica and Eric Huntley, though not artists, were heavily involved with CAM. An umbrella arts organisation, it included visual artists such as Aubrey Williams, Althea McNish, Ronald Moody, Karl Craig, Winston Branch, Winston Benn and others, several of whom were represented by artworks in the No Colour Bar exhibition and in reproductions of their work through the archive materials in the Huntley collections.
CAM spawned the journal Savacou, connecting its activities in Britain, the Caribbean region and the African diaspora, and elsewhere internationally. La Rose began selling and publishing books, under the name New Beacon Books, responding to a demand for material that was stimulated by the formation of CAM. Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications was soon to follow.
CAM is acknowledged as being particularly significant in helping to "spark interest in the work of Britain's artists of colour". The thrust of CAM was in forging a Caribbean identity in Britain, rather than a “Black British” one – a concept that had not yet taken root; the vast majority of writers and artists active at the time had been born in the Caribbean and entertained intentions of returning “home” at some stage in the future, while the younger generation of UK-born artists were still a way off from emerging from art schools at the end of the 1970s. Virtually all the CAM discussions both in private meetings and in public forums were with the Caribbean in mind.
Quite apart from an understandable emphasis on the Caribbean rather than on the realities of life in Britain, CAM came under some pressure because of its middle-class character and focus on the arts at the expense of wider political and social issues, mainly from the West Indian Students Centre’ increasingly radicalised student body. Much of the impetus for this radicalisation came from the intensity of the civil rights movement in the United States led by Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, leader of the Students Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee (SNCC) and later the Black Panthers, as well by the involvement and support of Black celebrities such as singer Harry Belafonte, and Muhammad Ali, newly crowned heavyweight boxing champion, and a host of others Black celebrities.