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Handsworth Riots

  • Object:

    Photograph

  • Place of origin:

    Handsworth (The Lozells Road specifically, photographed)
    Birmingham (photographed)

  • Date:

    09/1985 (photographed)
    2012 (printed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Caesar, Pogus

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gelatin silver prints from 35mm archival negative

  • Credit Line:

    Supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

  • Museum number:

    E.1203-2012

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level C, case MB2H, shelf DR57

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. They resulted in extensive damage to the local area and left 35 people injured, 2 people unaccounted for and 2 people tragically dead. Caesar’s photographs taken on a basic 35mm Auto Focus camera highlight the everyday circumstances in which the disturbances occurred. When a bathtub tumbled into the street in the midst of the destruction, he felt the image added ‘a surreal contrast to the reality of the day's devastation.’ The bath collided with an overturned Central TV News car.

The way in which the disturbances were reported in the national media remains contentious. The violence was often portrayed 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

Black and white photograph of an overturned car and bathtub. The photographs depicts an otherwise residential street. The back end of the car and its underside are seen in the centre of the image, with the upright bathtub to the right of it. Shards of glass can be seen on the floor to the side of the car. In the background there is a dark cloud of smoke. There are people at the edges of the image, with an older man walking to the left seen most clearly, smoking a pipe. To the right two men stand in front of a temporary metal barrier, with other people further behind this.

Place of Origin

Handsworth (The Lozells Road specifically, photographed)
Birmingham (photographed)

Date

09/1985 (photographed)
2012 (printed)

Artist/maker

Caesar, Pogus

Materials and Techniques

Gelatin silver prints from 35mm archival negative

Dimensions

Height: 30.5 cm image, Width: 45.5 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

Streets; Cars

Categories

Photographs; African Diaspora; Black History

Production Type

Limited edition

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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