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Backdrop (2018)

Barbara Walker

graphite on embossed paper

The Whitworth, The University of Manchester

Backdrop (2018)

© Barbara Walker Courtesy of Cristea Roberts Gallery, London. Photography: Chris Keenan



Drawing and Watercolour


Graphite, Paper


58.0 x 38.0 cm


Presented by the Contemporary Art Society, with support of The Friends of The Whitworth, 2019/20

Ownership history:

Purchased from Cristea Roberts Gallery, London by the Contemporary Art Society, with support of The Friends of The Whitworth, 5 March 2020; presented to The Whitworth (Whitworth Art Gallery), The University of Manchester, 2020


Black (presence)
Barbara Walker is a figurative artist whose practice focuses on drawing. She makes work that scales from small embossed works on paper to large charcoal wall drawings. Issues of visibility and representation are central to Walker’s practice. She views the archive as a space of power that is used to privilege white western histories and subjects over Black people and culture. Within this unbalanced system, art plays the mediator, supporting or challenging established narratives through acts of representation. As such, her drawings often reference public archives to create works that seek to transfer visibility to Black subjects; ranging in subject matter from the ‘stop and search’ police tactic, European paintings in the National Gallery and the First World War. Through a process of erasing white subjects, and bringing Black men and women to the fore, Walker revisits and reveals the prejudices inherent in how western histories are told by those with power.

The three drawings acquired for the Whitworth are part of an ongoing series called ‘Shock and Awe’ (2015–present). In these works, white soldiers are rendered almost invisible through embossing whilst Black soldiers are brought to the surface with graphite marks. Through this inversion, these portraits reclaim an equal and independent position of the former ‘other’, establishing their own narratives rather than those told by their former oppressors.

The narrative of national heritage presented through public collections is informed and shaped by museum acquisitions. Within the Whitworth’s collection, Barbara Walker’s striking drawings will be used as a tool for disrupting the traditional narrative of British history.

All rights reserved. Any further use will need to be cleared with the rights holder. Permission granted to reproduce for personal and educational use only. Commercial copying, hiring, lending is prohibited. The collection that owns this artwork may have more information on their own website about permitted uses and image licensing options.

For further information, please consult our section of our copyright policy.

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