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Handsworth Riots

  • Object:

    Photograph

  • Place of origin:

    Handsworth (photographed)
    Birmingham (photographed)

  • Date:

    09/1985 (photographed)
    2012 (printed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Caesar, Pogus (photographer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gelatin silver prints from archival 35mm negatives

  • Credit Line:

    Supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

  • Museum number:

    E.1200-2012

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case SP, shelf 5

Born in St. Kitts, Pogus Caesar moved to Birmingham as a child. His photographs of the local community include a record of the brief but significant period of social unrest in the Handsworth area at the beginning of September 1985.

The events that became known as the 1985 ‘Handsworth riots’ began the day after the multicultural community’s annual carnival. The disturbances were said to have started when crowds gathered to protest against the arrest of a black man whose car was thought to be illegally parked and missing a tax disc. Two days of violence resulted in extensive damage to the local area and left 35 people injured, 2 people unaccounted for and 2 people dead. Caesar’s photographs taken on a basic 35mm Auto Focus camera highlight the everyday circumstances in which the destruction occurred. He has since commented that ‘even today many people still ask the question: ‘how could a tiny spark turn into such a gigantic flame?’

The disturbances remain a contentious turn of events, especially the way in which they were policed and reported. National media coverage often portrayed the violence as a result of interracial conflict between Handsworth’s black and Asian communities, an account disputed by local people. Handsworth had witnessed an earlier outbreak of violence in 1981, during a series of disturbances across Britain. The events in 1985 were also followed by further conflicts in urban areas, such as Brixton and Broadwater Farm in London. The social discontent which surfaced in all of these areas has since been linked to high levels of unemployment and poor relations between the police and local people. Caesar documented the events in Handsworth alongside Black Audio Film Collective, which explored the representation of the ‘riots’ in their seminal film Handsworth Songs (1986).

The V&A acquired four of Caesar’s photographs as part of the Staying Power project. Staying Power is a five year partnership between the V&A and Black Cultural Archives. The project aims to explore black British experience from the 1950s to the 1990s through photographs acquired by the V&A and oral histories conducted by Black Cultural Archives.

Physical description

A black and white photograph of an upturned car on a street with two men walking past in the background. There is smoke surrounding the car, particularly in the right hand corner of the image. The two men wear suits with their hands in their pockets, one of them is black and the other white. The black man wears a flat cap. The image is noticeably grainy in quality.

Place of Origin

Handsworth (photographed)
Birmingham (photographed)

Date

09/1985 (photographed)
2012 (printed)

Artist/maker

Caesar, Pogus (photographer)

Materials and Techniques

Gelatin silver prints from archival 35mm negatives

Dimensions

Width: 45.5 cm image, Height: 30.5 cm image, Height: 35.75 cm paper, Width: 50.5 cm paper

Object history note

The V&A acquired this photograph as part of the Staying Power project. Staying Power is a five year partnership between the V&A and Black Cultural Archives. The project aims to explore black British experience from the 1950s to the 1990s through photographs acquired by the V&A and oral histories conducted by Black Cultural Archives.

Descriptive line

Photograph by Pogus Caesar from the series Handsworth Riots, gelatin silver print, Handsworth, Birmingham, 1985, printed 2012

Materials

Photographic paper

Techniques

Gelatin silver process; Photography

Subjects depicted

Car; Smoke; Destruction

Categories

African Diaspora; Photographs; Black History; Europeana Fashion Project

Production Type

Limited edition

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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