By the Rivers of Birminam will be accompanied by a public programme of panel discussions, conversations and presentations, designed to engage with many of the complex questions and issues around photographic exhibitions.
Dr Vanley Burke’s work is a retrospective exhibition of 100 photographs and is curated by Professor Lynda Morris (Research Professor Curation and Art History, Norwich University of the Arts). The exhibition documents the history of the African-Caribbean community in Birmingham, and particularly the area of Handsworth, from 1968 to 2011.
In its photographic detailing of the everyday lives of Birmingham’s black community for over four decades, this profound visual record represents one of the most extensive and significant photographic archives of African-Caribbean life in post-war Britain. Burke’s intimate, insider view presents an alternative to the often sensationalist and biased representations of black Britons ubiquitously reproduced in the British mass media from the late 1960s through to the 1980s, providing a counter-narrative to those representations.
Burke’s photographic practice raises questions that speak cogently to the broader politics of photographic representation, and more specifically as they pertain to documentary photography, as well as to postcolonial debates around the diasporic conditions of up rootedness, alienation, displacement, adaptation and belonging.
With acknowledgment of how the differing historical, political, geographic and social contexts in which photographs are taken significantly influence the ways in which they are read, Burke’s work finds strong resonance, despite their very different socio-political contexts, with many examples and archives of documentary photographs taken by South African photographers working during a similar time frame, whose photographs similarly represent – as historical records and activist undertakings – the socio-political evolution of the country.
Executive Dean of the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, Professor Federico Freschi says, “The University of Johannesburg is proud to be hosting an exhibition of such international calibre, and ties in with our objectives of developing a strong culture and ethos around the discussions of visual identities on a national, continental and international level”.
Issues and considerations raised by Burke’s photographic work have on-going relevance, in that contemporary photography in South Africa remains steeped in this documentary tradition, with a younger generation of photographers continuing to engage and further that legacy. Some do so as activists; others seek to capture the zeitgeist of their particular social domain or socio-economic-political era, producing photographs that articulate the specificities of their space and place in a contemporary South African context.
For more information on the offerings within the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture visit the University of Johannesburg’s website ww.uj.ac.za or contact (011) 559-11098 or follow them on Facebook UJFADA or Twitter @UJ_FADA.