As the leaves turn and Starbucks start selling their Pumpkin Spice latte I am hitting the galleries at the end of their summer exhibitions.
Today I found my way to the IKON gallery which has At Homewith Vanley Burke on its First Floor Galleries until 27th September.
This is an installation which contains the entire contents of Burke’s flat in Nechells, north east Birmingham according to the accompanying blurb. It was interesting to hear one of the gallery staff explain they did get him stuff from Ikea to use whilst the exhibition is going on.
I found this approach and installation fascinating and really interesting.
Readers of the work of Stuart Hall the late cultural studies theorist will be unsurprised to find overlaps with what Hall talked about and what is represented in this exhibition. It is a collection which showcases not only Burke’s photography but also an extensive archive of objects relating to black culture in Britain.
There were a range of things within the collection which caught my interest. The first was a collection of news stand sheets (i.e. the sort advertising that days headlines) relating to Handsworth which were in the hallway. These were a visual representation of how moral panic works and the scare stories which have been put forward about black men particularly.
This installation, particularly many of the photographs of the early 1980’s, explained why the neo-Marxist interpretation of the treatment of Afro-Caribbean youth, particularly men, is valid. It showed the way in which the police have sometimes treated minority ethnic groups in this country and the way they have had to organise themselves as a result.
The exhibition also contained a number of posters and so on relating to the anti-apartheid struggle which was occurring when South Africa was under white minority rule. These clearly explained what the purpose of the struggle was and how the campaign was certainly not just white liberals in this country.
Amongst the traditional African art which also hung on the walls were some Victorian Christian images of the sort that the UK church now tends to be embarrassed of. This was interesting to me because I know it illustrates a Christian view which still persists in the mind of some minority ethnic groups. It is the image given to them by the missionaries which was last seen reflected in the 1933 Methodist Hymn Book, a hymn book which is still the preferred one for use in Ghana for example.
As a white liberal I found the persistence of these images cringe worthy, yet I knew they had a place and when we seek to say they no longer have worth we are denying part of somebody else’s culture somehow. I have not explained this well but their inclusion in the installation was challenging to me.
I liked the pile of tapes which were in one room because they held nostalgia for an England that used to be when I was a teenager.
There were also numerous other pieces around which caught my imagination but the most important thing was the whole of this piece. There was an authenticity about it which one so rarely finds, particularly in a gallery.
Social history and art are often one, but somehow iconic images which are part of the social history become sanitised in a gallery space. This exhibition avoided that sanitation and the fact it was a whole flat made it feel. It also had a very comfortable feel to it.
For me a good gallery can be a sacred space and a place to connect with God as you wander through it encountering the images which often vary between the erotic, disturbing and distorted, and the amazingly beautiful. There is also space to breathe in a gallery. As I wandered through IKON I could feel that connection with the spiritual as I encounter it. I have a feeling this will be that place I go when I just need to breathe in large breaths of the sacred just as the Tate Modern was when I lived in the South.