Barbara Walker MBE, RA is a British artist based in Birmingham in the UK. Her work is informed by the social, political and cultural realities that affect her life and the lives of those around her. Growing up in Birmingham, her experiences have directly shaped a practice concerned with issues of class and power, gender, race, representation and belonging. Her figurative drawings and paintings tell contemporary stories hinged on historical circumstances, making them universally understood and reflecting a human perspective on the state of affairs in her native Britain and elsewhere.
Referred to by the art historian Eddie Chambers as “one of the most talented, productive and committed artists of her generation”, Walker makes portraits in a range of media and formats, from small embossed works on paper to paintings on canvas and large-scale charcoal wall drawings. Her works depict subjects who are often cast as minorities, inviting the viewer to look beyond the anonymising act of categorising or classifying citizens. Her pictures make visible the lives of others, and address the allusions associated with the labels conferred upon people by society.
The issues of belonging, power, visibility, and representation are central to Walker’s practice. She often references public archives to create works that effectively transfer visibility back to the subject, offering an alternative and balanced interpretation of a nation’s history. The narrative of national heritage, presented through public collections, is informed by acquisitions and the collecting rationale of privileged individuals throughout history; Walker works to disrupt these limited and often skewed standpoints, and through her pictures introduces opportunities for the contemporary viewer to consider other perspectives beyond that of the powerful institution.
Walker’s recent solo exhibitions include Vanishing Point, Cristea Roberts Gallery (2022), Place, Space and who (2019) at Turner Contemporary, Vanishing Point at Jerwood Gallery (2018), Shock and Awe at Midlands Arts Centre (2016), Sub Urban at the James Hockey Gallery, part of the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham (2015) and As Seen at Tiwani Contemporary, London, (2013) Her works have been included in significant group exhibitions in the UK and internationally; exhibitions including: Sharjah Biennial (2023), Life Between Islands, Caribbean - British Art, 50s to Now, Tate Britan (2021),Lahore Biennale ( 2020), Summer Show, Royal Academy of Arts (2019), Protest and Remembrance, Alan Cristea Gallery ( 2019), Zeichen, MEWO Kunsthalle, Memmingen ( 2018), Diaspora Pavilion,57th Venice Biennale (2017),A Slice Through the World: Contemporary Artists’ Drawings, Modern Art Oxford (2018) and The Gallery of Small Things, Dakar Biennale, Senegal (2018).
She has worked on a large commission for Facebook London Headquarters and other public art projects. Her work is held in private and public collections, including Arts Council Collection, Yale Center for British Art, Government Art Collections, The British Museum, US Embassy London, Sharjah Arts Foundation , Bristol Museum and Art Gallery and Philadelphia Museum of Art.
She has been awarded the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Artist Bursary Award 2020, Bridget Riley Fellowship 2020 at The British School at Rome, and received the inaugural Evelyn Williams Drawing Award in 2017, in association with the Jerwood Charitable Foundation. Walker was awarded an MBE in the 2019 New Year Honours for services to British Art. In 2023 she was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts.
Current and forthcoming projects:
Life Between Islands, Caribbean - British Art, 50s to Now, curated by David A. Bailey and Alex Farquharson, Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada.
Turner Prize, Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, UK (forthcoming)
Power and Resistance, curated by Dr Victoria Avery FSA and Dr Jake Subryan Richards, Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, UK.
Barbara Walker Book
This fully illustrated publication is the first book dedicated to her Walker’s art and includes new writing by Paul Gilroy, Sarah Martin and Aïcha Mehrez, alongside an interview with the artist by Courtney J. Martin. Available now from Turner Contemporary.
Winner of the 2023 Historians of British Art Prize for Exemplary Exhibition Catalogue.