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At Home with Vanley Burke

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 2015
Published by: Ikon Gallery
Year published: 2015
Number of pages: 84
ISBN: 978-1-904864-98-1

image of At Home with Vanley Burke

Catalogue for At Home with Vanley Burke, by far one of the most intriguing exhibitions to take place in recent years. It featured the bulk, if not the entirety, of the contents of Vanley Burke’s Birmingham flat being relocated and reinstalled in the Ikon Gallery. The exhibition’s dates were 22 July - 27 September 2015.

From the catalogue Foreword, by Jonathan Watkins, Director:

“Vanley Burke, born in Jamaica in 1951, resident in Birmingham since 1965, is renowned as a photographer concerned especially with black culture in Britain. He has had numerous exhibitions surveying his career as an artist, and these have sometimes included material from his archive, a vast collection including printed material (posters, flyers, publications), clothes, records, ornaments and countless other items that provide invaluable insights into our African and Caribbean communities. The religious and political beliefs of black people at home here, their artistic activities, fashions and leisure pursuits, food, health issues and many other aspects of everyday life are all equally of interest to the artist.

The archival items are like photographs in that they are indexical traces of human presence, countless pieces of evidence of actual experience. The collection of them suggests insurance against certain memories being lost, and that there will be a repository of raw material that can give rise to alternative histories. Each item not only gives its own particular account – why was it made, where and for whom? – but also it is evocative of a zeitgeist, an evolving spirit of a time, lived through by the artist, that embodies hope as much as fear, feelings of alienation as much as celebration, active resistance and demands for equal opportunity as much as the enjoyment of new adventures. The collection as a whole is thus greater than the sum of its parts and extremely poignant.

Burke’s archive is partly in storage at the Library of Birmingham, but most of it is to be found in his flat near Birmingham’s city centre, in filing cabinets or boxes or on display. It is an extraordinary interior, a cabinet of wonderful curiosities. This is an exhibition, more or less, of its entire contents – the archive with artworks and souvenirs, as well as decor and furniture, wardrobe, kitchenware et cetera – so that the artist is revealed as a subject of his own enquiry.

Vanley Burke’s personal story, involving such a vital archival impulse, is integral to the bigger picture he is making for us, on this occasion with the help of many others.”

From “Looking Company”, by Marlene Smith: “Himself a “sent for” child, arriving in Birmingham as a teenager to join his parents who had come ahead to establish a home, Burke spent the latter part of his school days amongst many with similar family histories. The camera his mother had sent for his 10th birthday became a tool with which to study this new place, understand it and render it knowable. His collaborators in those early photographic works were literally and metaphorically - to use the idiom of those times - his younger “brothers and sisters”.”

From “Home from Home: The Vanley Burke Archive”, by Pete James: “Like many members of his community, Burke was reluctant to engage with public institutions, such as libraries or museums, as these were often founded on the profits of slavery. They had also, up to that moment, made little or no effort to engage with or record the contributions of the diverse ethnic communities that formed a vital and important part of the history of their adopted home. The issue of Burke’s largely hidden archive remains unresolved.”

The catalogue, extensively illustrated, with texts by Pete James, Curator of Photographs at the Library of Birmingham, and artist/curator Marlene Smith.

An early image in the catalogue was a photograph of a Kodak ‘Brownie’ 127 camera, which may have been the actual camera that Burke was given as a child, with which he took his first photograph - of his family home in Jamaica - in 1962. The photograph is the reproduced on page 83 of the catalogue.

Contents as follows:


Photographs, Vanley Burke - a selection of his photographs, taken between 1977 and 2007

Looking Company, Marlene Smith

Home from Home: The Vanley Burke Archive, Pete James

At Home with Vanley Burke - extensive documentation of the contents of Burke’s flat, or installations view of it.


reproduction of Burke’s first photograph, as mentioned above.


James’ text was illustrated by four smaller photographs, including a portrait of Burke.

Related people

»  Vanley Burke

Born, 1951 in Jamaica

»  Marlene Smith

Born, 1964 in Birmingham, England

Related exhibitions

Related venues

»  Ikon Gallery

Birmingham, United Kingdom