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.
“Drawing is an accessible medium that is comfortable to work with. It’s very forgiving. It’s very flexible. It’s a medium that is easy to communicate with (and through).”