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Vanley Burke: Blood & Fire A Journey Through Vanley Burke's History - Soho House, Birmingham

Vanley Burke: Blood & Fire

A Journey Through Vanley Burke's History - Soho House, Birmingham

by Ancient Champion, Columnist
first published: May, 2022
Vanley Burke's photography has such nautural warmth and candid elan, decades later, when looking at his work it is easy to feel as if you could step right into the frame and be right there, and belong.

Vanley Burke
Blood & Fire: Our Journey Through Vanley Burke’s History
Soho House
Handsworth, Birmingham
May 25th - October 26th, 2022

As part of the city's ongoing cultural tilt in support of the Commonwealth Games, the  Birmingham 2022 Festival,  Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) has reopened to host, amongst other things, a show by Turner Prize-winning artist and cultural activist Lubaina Himid’s Found Cities, Lost Objects: Women in the City, which explores modern city life from a female perspective), as well as 'In The Que' fascinating history of 90s dance culture in the city. Elsewhere, The Birmingham Music Archive and the University of Birmingham combined to create the exciting 'Ceremony: Pop Comes To Campus' at the University of Birmingham’s Bramall Music Building. 

Opening this week at the Soho House in Handsworth is, Blood & Fire: Our Journey Through Vanley Burke’s History. The exhibition sees Birmingham’s most celebrated photographer provide '...a collection of evocative images, including archival material from his personal collection, taking visitors on a journey through the artist’s history and the Black British experience.'

Vanley has focused on re-examining his personal collection after he lost a number of archival materials to a house fire in the 90s. The fire served as a turning point for his practice and this exhibition questions what it means to put these objects into a curatorial and historical context, gathering our past to pave the way for our future.

Born in Jamaica in 1951, Vanley Burke began taking pictures at the age of 10. He came to England in the mid-60s as a teenager and set out on an observational photography journey that would encapsulate everything from kitchen sink family dramas to political protest and unrest. His photography has such a candid elan that, decades later, when looking at his work it is easy to feel as if you could step right into the frame and be right there, and belong. 

He told What’s On Magazine, 'I’ve drawn on that body of work for this exhibition to be representative of the people of my history. And so we have curated a space in which people can engage with the ideas of history, migration, settlement, and all of those issues which are about our lives. They are junctions or individual moments and events of cultural continuity.'

He continued: 'I think the resilience of us as a people shouldn’t really go unnoticed. We have had bad press over the years, and I think we weren’t always able to represent the pain at the time. We have been extremely creative in the arts, science and education; we are playing our part. Those stories and experiences, all that building, was achieved despite the fact that the background noise was very much one of abuse.'

Vanley Burke is rightly one of the most heralded documentarians of Black British life. While much of his work is archived in the Birmingham Library, his photography was recently featured in the major Life Between Islands exhibition at the Tate in London. The exhibition at Soho House in Handsworth is a unique and very exciting opportunity for people of the city to see his work, at home, for free until October.

Although entry is free to Vanley Burke’s exhibition only, it is worth sticking around, pulling a bit of change maybe from the back of your sofa if you’ve got it, to pay the admission to wander around Soho House which was the Georgian home of the Birmingham industrialist, Matthew Boulton.

As the Commonwealth Games approach there have been reports of the very real concerns of a disconnect between distinct communities within our minority-majority city. As the preparations wind up and the Commonwealth Games arrive for real, research carried out by academics on behalf of the Birmingham Race Impact Group (BRIG) has identified a troubling lack of engagement across the city. The BBC reports that several areas require urgent action according to BRIG's 'report card', including there being no race action plan, no response on how to redress racial disparities, and how the Games diversity credentials are at risk. BRIG’s Jagwant Johal, told the BBC, 'The report card seriously challenges the diversity credentials sought and projected by B2022 in providing a series of recommendations to the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee and its delivery partners.' The BBC report with external links can be found here

It feels like an appropriate time for this exhibition to be seen.  'Blood and Fire - Our Journey Through Vanley Burke's History'  is on show until 30 October.  Admission Free. VB


Essential Info
Main Image by Vanley Burke

Vanley Burke
Blood & Fire: Our Journey Through Vanley Burke’s History
Soho House
Handsworth, Birmingham
May 25th - October 26th, 2022
Weds - Sun 11am-4pm Admission to the  exhibition is free,
admission to Soho House… not so free. 

Vanley Burke's on Twitter here
Birminghams Museum's Website is here
Soho House, Birmingham here

Ancient Champion
Columnist

Ancient Champion writes for OUTSIDELEFT, relentlessly records instrumental easy listening tracks, and is always completing the short story collection, Six Stories About Motoring Nowhere. More info at AncientChampion.com


about Ancient Champion »»

Vanley Burke's photography has such nautural warmth and candid elan, decades later, when looking at his work it is easy to feel as if you could step right into the frame and be right there, and belong.
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