Evocative images taken by renowned photographer Vanley Burke will join archival material from his personal collection, in a new exhibition opening at Soho House, Handsworth in May, as part of the Birmingham 2022 Festival, taking visitors on a journey through the artist’s history and the Black British experience.
Opening on Wednesday 25 May, Blood & Fire: Our Journey Through Vanley Burke's History, will see Burke re-examine his personal collection.
In the 1990s he lost a number of archival materials to a house fire. The fire served as a turning point for his practice and this exhibition questions what it means to put these everyday objects into a curatorial and historical context, alongside some of Burke’s iconic photographic images.
As an avid collector, Burke’s vast archive pieces together a story of migration shared by many people from the African Caribbean community who came to settle in the UK and live in Birmingham. Personal objects, some of which have never been on public display before, will include a Dutch pot used for home cooking family meals, a passport, and a radiogram which entertained the family and guests through libations and songs reminiscent of home.
Burke was born in Jamaica in 1951 and arrived in Birmingham in 1965 aged 15. A love of photography was sparked when he received a camera from his mother when he was 10, and once here in the city, he began documenting the lives and experiences of Black people, from everyday events to anti-racist marches.
Photography on display will illustrate a wider, connected history of Black British experiences using the communities of Birmingham as a lens. Images include one of Burke’s most striking photographs, Boy with a Flag, taken in Handsworth Park in 1970. The exhibition aims to connect with those that resonate with Burke’s archive, and through a series of engagement events, visitors will be asked to share their experiences and stories to continue the conversation about Black life in Birmingham, using the past to pave the way for the future.
Vanley Burke said: “I had my first exhibition at Grove Lane Junior School back in 1983; ‘Handsworth From Inside’ which was later shown at the Ikon Gallery.
“After thirty-nine years I am exhibiting in Handsworth again. This exhibition, which I am quite excited about, is drawn from photographs I’ve taken in Handsworth’s Black community over the past fifty years. It also includes objects from my archive which I have assembled alongside my photography.
“My aim is to reunite the people with their memories aiding them to reflect with others on the journeys and the effort their families have made to establish themselves in a strange land. The exhibition also highlights the need for a building to create an archive where African Caribbean people can be the custodian and curators of their past.”
Exhibitions Team Leader at Birmingham Museums Trust, Katie Morton, said: “Vanley is one of the UK’s leading Black artists of the commonwealth generation, and while the spotlight is on Birmingham this year, it feels right to bring this exhibition to Soho House and Handsworth to continue the conversation with communities living in Birmingham today. It’s fascinating to be able to explore Vanley’s personal collection and we can’t wait to bring the exhibition together over the coming months.”
Blood & Fire: Our Journey Through Vanley Burke's History is presented by the Birmingham 2022 Festival and generously supported by Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Inspired by the exhibition, Birmingham Museums is launching a new workshop for schools which looks at the way Handsworth as an area has evolved and continues to innovate. From the emergence of the Industrial Revolution to its vibrant food scene, A Changing Handsworth will give children the chance to examine the changes Mathew Boulton made to the area by exploring his Georgian home, Soho House.