Life Between Islands

Vanley Burke (b. 1951) is often described as the ‘Godfather of Black British Photography’, best known for his iconic images of the UK’s evolving cultural and social landscapes since the 1960s. Born in Jamaica, he moved to Birmingham in 1965 armed with a camera given to him by his grandmother for his 10th birthday. Four decades on, he continues to draw strength from remaining a “humble man of the community”, capturing the intimate and private nature of people’s everyday lives. Shown above is one such shot from 1984 – documenting several young men on a seesaw in Handsworth Park.

The image is on view at Tate Britain as part of Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art 1950s – Now, alongside works by over 40 key artists including Frank Bowling, Sonia Boyce, Steve McQueen and Grace Wales Bonner. The exhibition – notably the first of its kind in a major national museum,  providing long overdue recognition ­– spans film, photography, painting, sculpture and fashion, and aims to showcase 70 years of culture, experience and ideas. It begins with artists of the Windrush generation who came to Britain in the 1950s, including members of the Caribbean Artists Movement. The rise of Black Power in Britain is shown, in part, through enduring photographs of Stokely Carmichael by Horace Ové.

Elsewhere, works from the Black Arts Movement of the 1970s and 1980s depict the social and political struggles faced by second generation members of the Caribbean-British community. Isaac Julien’s 1984 Territories is one such piece, showing conflict between carnival attendees and the police. Burke’s images are also amongst these, presenting everyday scenes of love, family and social life. The show continues with artists who emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and concludes with a showcase of contemporary names. Liz Johnson Artur, for example, presents a photographic installation charting the development of south London’s Grime music scene.

Life Between Islands runs until 3 April 2022. Find out more here.

Words: Eleanor Sutherland

Image Credits:
1. Vanley Burke, Young Men on a Seesaw in Handsworth Park 1984. Courtesy Vanley Burke.
2. Installation view© Tate Photography.
3. Horace Ové, Stokely Carmichael giving a Black Power speech at The Dialectics of Liberation Congress, Round House, London, 1967. Courtesy Horace Ové Archives © Horace Ové