It's a Bit Much 2006

In 1986 a group of London-based filmmakers, the Black Audio Film Collective, made what proved to be a seminal film that examined the broad historical background and the aftermath, of the “riots” that had flared up in inner city Birmingham in September of the previous year. The rioting - apparently triggered by community discontentment and sparked by an altercation between police officers and members of the public - rocked not just Birmingham itself but also London’s political establishment. The film, Handsworth Songs, is an engaging document that consists, in part at least, of an overlapping series of archival images and contemporary footage of the streets of Handsworth and the surrounding neighbourhoods. One of the most disturbing aspects of this contemporary footage is the way in which areas such as Handsworth are shown as being, in effect, territory which is occupied by the police, as much as it is occupied by regular people going about their normal day to day activities. This sense of Handsworth and surrounding areas being virtually under siege by the police is reinforced, time and time again, by newsreel and by the recounted experiences and opinions of aggrieved and frustrated residents. Within Handsworth Songs we hear from a variety of Black Brummies who are sick and tired of being perceived as drug peddlers and other criminals, and who resent the intrusive, disruptive and aggressive policing that they feel targets them.

Along with surveillance and a generally intimidating, almost militaristic police presence, the principal tactic of this policing, so residents complained, was the widespread and enthusiastic use of stop and search. In the period leading up to the disturbances of September 1985, hundreds of Black youth were subject to summary stop and search, whilst going about their legitimate business. In one of many of Handsworth Songs’ particularly sobering passages, one noticeably aggrieved woman, employing poignant understatement, describes and condemns such police tactics as being “a bit much"…

…Other work within this new series consists of sensitive drawings of Solomon himself. These compositions capture his image, his facial features and expressions, his identity, and his personality.  The intention of this work, in part at least, is to raise the question “what does one who is seen as a danger to society look like?" Or to put it another way, how can Barbara's beloved, law-abiding son be seen as a threat to the civil order time and time again? This series of drawings of drawings prompt this further enquiry: what are the consequences and implications of living in a world in which an individual such as Solomon is often judged by others (particularly those with power and in power) by the way they look, rather than by what or who they actually are.

The full version of the above text by Eddie Chambers appeared as “It's a Bit Much”, in the exhibition brochure, Barbara Walker: Louder Than Words, Unit 2, London Metropolitan University, 20 November  – 16 December 2006