Challenging the stereotyping of the African-Caribbean community

Story by Jack Foley

‘… ordinary people, living ordinary lives, going about their day to day business – and being painted by an extraordinary artist. … In years to come, as much as the present time, we will thank Walker for these paintings.’ (Eddie Chambers, Private Face, March 2002)

A NEW exhibition by acclaimed artist, Barbara Walker, entitled Private Face, will run at the 198 Gallery in Herne Hill from October 30 to January 4, 2003, focusing on the African-Caribbean community of Birmingham, where the artist lives.

Walker's intimate collection boasts expressive paintings depicting the social interactions that take place where people meet, such as in a church, a dance hall or a barber’s shop (pictured above).

These are the places where, she feels, ‘the rituals and ceremonies of everyday life occur'.

The paintings present these daily activities with an eye for detail, making the viewer feel as though they are almost in the scene, particularly in her large-scale paintings. Walker aims to broaden people’s perceptions about aspects of her culture by presenting images of scenes that are not often seen within the mainstream media.

Considering her work to be ‘social documentary through painting’, Walker wishes to ‘challenge the stereotyping and misunderstanding [of the African-Caribbean community] that abounds, and offer a sophisticated and positive alternative in a mainstream setting’.

As well as capturing men and women in their natural states as they go about their daily business, she feels it is important to document elderly people, ‘a group of people who are often invisible in today’s society and who hold unique memories for the community because of their status as the first generation of people from the Caribbean to come to Britain'.

Barbara Walker has shown her work extensively in the UK, with exhibitions this year at the mac in Birmingham and the Art Exchange Gallery in Nottingham.

The 198 Gallery is open from 11am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday, and from noon to 4pm on Saturday. The 198 Gallery boasts a unique history, initially established in 1988 after the Brixton riots to provide exhibition space for black and other minority group artists.

It now supports emerging contemporary artists from diverse cultural backgrounds working with a variety of media and issues within a multicultural context.

The House of Small Things, Until October 19, 198 Gallery, 198 Railton Road, Herne Hill, London, SE24 0LU.