Shock & Awe by Barbara Walker - Art Exhibition Review

Shock & Awe is the new exhibition by Barbara Walker. The art work graces the walls in the main gallery on the first floor of the Midlands Art Centre (MAC). This new work is a well-researched and developed art collection. Shock & Awe is comprised of drawings of black soldiers from 1900 until the present day. This was evident at the symposium titled “Conflicting Accounts: Warfare and the Public Archive” in which it was mentioned by Professor Vron Ware “That black men from the African diaspora were among the regiment for Sir Francis Drake during the 16th century”.

Shock & Awe is a fresh direction for Walker. When gazing at Walkers art I find amazing the beautiful markings made using graphite and charcoal in the drawings, especially the large free-standing wall drawings of a line-up of black women soldiers. On a second opposite large free-standing wall is a close up elegant portrait of a black woman soldier. Among her peers Walker is a professional through and through, and respected especially in her presence. As a woman artist Walker has had challenges and learnt from them. Walker has created an excellent and passionate response to the overlooked contribution of black soldiers. The art work has movement and substance and is captured so well. Included in the collection of work is recognition of female soldiers. Walker’s signature style and medium is mixed media, digital print and collage. This artwork is a strong statement and an emotional one. As Walker has said about her work process “I use drawing as a visual communication to respond to the world around me.” as seen in the film “Sub Urban: New Drawings” – by filmmaker James Dunstan.

Walker is an international and established artist for over 20 years and given great recognition by artists, curators and writers, especially in books by Eddie Chambers. Walker’s artwork contains historical references and presents the viewer something more than expected. She acknowledges that black soldiers have always been in the military and we the viewer should recognise this. Why are they missing from common historical knowledge? Even when Shakespeare wrote Othello, who was possibly a black soldier in the military.

Walkers art work is breath-taking in movement, brilliant use of dark and tonal colour and formation. This artwork is like looking at still photographs from a classical dance performance. Shock & Awe fills in the huge gap in our history. The British Military would not have survived many wars without these black personnel. Besides fighting in ambush, black soldiers provided the military with dental, nursing, catering and maintenance services.

The objective of this exhibition stands out with a strong defiance to recognise the contribution of black soldiers. For decades, Black soldiers in military history have been erased, archived, misrepresented and hidden away without being acknowledged. Walker's work captivates the viewer in such a moving way when you step into the galleries.

(c) Gina Smith 2016

Several artworks by Barbara Walkers are included in the art exhibition Jamaican Pulse at the Bristol's Royal West Academy from 24 July 2016 to 11 September 2016.

Shock & Awe – Barbara Walker
Curator – Craig Ashley
Midlands Art Centre (MAC)
First Floor Gallery
23rd April 2016 – 3rd July 2016

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