Barbara Walker

Alchemy, 2020
Site-specific work, wall drawings, new commission

In Alchemy the British artist Barbara Walker addresses issues of race and segregation in the military. This new series of site-specific, large-scale wall drawings depict soldiers from the Commonwealth in World War I. Acknowledging the contribution of Black servicemen and women to British war efforts is a key concern in Walker’s recent work; she attends to a prevailing absence of representation in our museums and archives, and a missing opportunity to celebrate, respect and remember. The use of erasure and the void within her images signifies what she sees as a gap in the collective consciousness of a nation. History is central to Walker’s practice. In common with her wider body of work, Transcended looks to redress the story with a broader perspective, giving voice where before there was none. Walker references the role of Black soldiers in the First World War, and the thousands of West Indians who volunteered to fight with the British army. Fearing the consequences of empowering Black servicemen to engage and kill a white enemy, the British Government in 1914 initially kept Black soldiers off the frontline and deployed them instead for menial tasks such as digging trenches and moving artillery shells. Once the staggering losses became apparent, the policy changed and Black soldiers were swiftly deployed to fight in combat from 1915. Made in charcoal and ephemeral in nature, Walker’s drawings are striking and bold. They portray soldiers from the British West Indian Regiment who died and were buried in graves in Taranto, Italy, following a mutiny that lasted four days in December 1918. Poignant and affecting, they reference current and recent British conflict alongside historical events of warfare involving Britain and the colonised nations of the British Empire.

Commissioned by Lahore Biennale Foundation
Acknowledgments: Eman Nadeem, Howrah Batool, and Maham Nadeem