Sunday, 6 September 2015

Vanley Burke @ IKON

Photographer VANLEY BURKE has for years created a visual chronicle of experience in Birmingham since the mid-60s.   He has also collected items of political, personal and decorative interest and is a dedicated archivist of objects relating to Black people in Britain, from china tea cups to slave shackles, piles of  magazines and postcards to coats, hats and shoes. 

For the past two months, the entire contents of his apartment in north-east Birmingham have been re-displayed in the Ikon Gallery, providing a vivid sense of being 'At Home with Vanley Burke', in sitting room, work room, kitchen, bedroom.   Every object is a story - engaging, polemical, nostalgic, fortuitous, musical, angry, comical.  Visually and spatially it is literally fascinating, every eye-ful yielding different juxtapositions - with vinyl playing on the ear as well.

Burke's words provide the intellectual and historical context:
"I am informed by my desire to capture people's experience ... History always has a starting point, but we, the African-Caribbean community, didn't trust the history that was written ... we needed to start documenting and writing our own history, so I collected material that reflects us .... It was all about the process of migration and settlement .  I was conscious that while you're doing that you don't have time to record your own history or see what's happening around you. My role as artist was to observe and document thee things ... I'm also interested in mass-produced objects  - the paraphernalia that was used visually to describe black people: figurines, masks, golliwogs. Although they were not owned by us at the time, they are still part of our narrative.  It's about the process of collecting objects which are pregnant with the history of the people who have used them.  A black experience, but largely a working-class experience as well." 

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