A photography exhibition featuring images of migrant communities will be launched in Birmingham

Internationally acclaimed photographer Vanley Burke will this week launch a brand new photographic exhibition celebrating working class and migrant communities in Birmingham.

The Ikon Gallery presents a series of portraits documenting migrant communities in the city as part of a project led by the University of Birmingham, capturing the experience of migrants.

Titled A Gift to Birmingham, the free public exhibition will be unveiled at the gallery in Brindley Place on Wednesday March 23, with Burke attending the launch alongside some of the residents he has photographed in recent months.

Vanley Burke’s new exhibition features seventeen portraits of Migrant Voice members, including Lukano, seen here ‘looking for others’

The exhibition features seventeen portraits of members of Migrant Voice, a national migrant-led organization with a regional center in the West Midlands.

Curators at the Ikon Gallery said the portraits represent an honest portrayal of people with an immigrant background.

“For Vanley Burke, it was important to portray the participants in their natural surroundings, including their homes, community centers and parks, across the downtown core.

“Each image tells a story of migration, recent or old, with subjects accompanied or alone. Displayed together, the photographs present a portrait of Birmingham as a very diverse city, with people from many parts of the world.

Before being photographed by Vanley Burke, each participant was interviewed by researchers from the University of Birmingham

Before being photographed, each participant was interviewed by researchers from the University of Birmingham School of Education about their experience living and working in Birmingham. Everyone photographed by Burke will also receive a printed copy of their portrait.

Discussions focused on both positive experiences, resources and infrastructure of the city, and on more difficult aspects such as the limited interaction between migrants and host communities, as well as the need to move the attention of children’s academic achievement towards better cultural understanding in schools.

Through these interviews, photographic documentation, co-curating exhibitions and creating school resources, this six-month collaborative research project examined the role of artists, educators and activists in challenging assumptions on migration and the removal of institutional and inter-community barriers.

Vanley Burke – often described as the “godfather of black British photography” – is an artist, photographer and curator whose archive, which studies the black British experience, is held at the Library of Birmingham. His exhibition, At Home with Vanley Burke, took place at the Ikon gallery in 2015.

Zarah Begum with her mother Lutfa at Saathi House, photographed by Vanley Burke

Ikon, in collaboration with Dr Reza Gholami, University of Birmingham, used the material to create a set of school kits (Key Steps, 1, 2 and 3) allowing teachers and students to discuss sensitive issues openly and resolve conflicts directly.

Designed by artist educator Haseebah Ali, they include critical questions – on topics of race, language, culture and religion – and creative exercises, allowing learners to express their identity. The school packs will be available for free download from the Ikon website at the end of March.

The Ikon showcase and school kits also include a film produced by Migrant Voice which raises awareness of the challenges faced by people migrating to and within the UK.

These resources are intended for practical application, in dismantling hostile environments and creating safe spaces, to promote an anti-racism agenda in and beyond the classroom.

Vanley Burke met some of the Birmingham locals he photographed at Saathi House in Aston

Dr Reza Gholami, Deputy Director of the Center for Research in Race and Education at the University of Birmingham, said:

“Over the past six months, the NICE-B project has benefited from a successful and impactful partnership with Ikon. Our collaboration has allowed us to work with renowned artists and organizations such as Vanley Burke and Migrant Voice, as well as Birmingham’s communities, to explore and address social and educational issues of central importance to the city and the country at large.

“Our co-produced digital education kits are a key result of our ongoing collaboration and will be a useful resource for schools and city policy makers as they continue to address social and educational disparities. This exhibition is a fantastic way for people to learn about and engage with our work.

A Gift to Birmingham was commissioned as part of the ‘Non-formal Intercommunal Education in Birmingham (NICE-B)’ project, led by Dr Reza Gholami, and will continue to tour at Saathi House in Aston following its debut at the Ikon Gallery .


A Gift to Birmingham by Vanley Burke is on display at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham from March 23 to April 3, 2022, with a special launch event on Wednesday March 23 from 2-4pm.

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