In the more than 50 years since he first picked up a camera, Vanley Burke’s iconic images of 1970s black Britain have become so ubiquitous that they often replace the memories of those who were there and become the archetype for those who were not. The turbulent 80s cannot be pictured without Burke’s images in John Akomfrah’s seminal 1986 film, Handsworth Songs, or his 1983 photograph of the Siffa sound system in action, coming to mind. Burke’s work has an afterlife—circulating the Internet, illustrating essays—referenced time and time again, but not always attributed.
This exhibition, his first in Canada, brings together images from four bodies of work to reflect on Burke’s engagement with the African diaspora. Watchers, Seekers, Keepers refers to his observations as an artist and those of his subjects and viewers. The seekers are at once those that he depicts and a wider reflection on the aspirations of all who know the condition of diaspora. The exhibition is also an opportunity to think about legacy. After decades of dedicated work, Burke knows instinctively that memories are vital—it is within and through them that history is told and understood.
Co-presented with BAND and The Room Next to Mine
Curated by Marlene Smith