Tam Joseph: Observers Are Worried

Apart from his memorable Barbican Foyer exhibition (organized and funded by himself) Tam has yet to secure the recognition he deserves. The reason that I want to see Tam’s work properly represented in some of the major publicly-funded gallery spaces in the country is simple. I believe Tam Joseph to be the finest, most prolific, and most committed painter and sculptor that the British-based Black community has yet produced. His work has an unquestionable quality and depth that makes him one of the strongest and most important artists in Britain – inside or out of the Black community…

Meanwhile, rabidly racist newspapers go to great lengths to print ridiculous photo-fit pictures of Black men accused of rape, mugging and whatever else the media sees fit to accuse them of. So yet again we see that Black people can only make it into the newspapers as criminals. Has anyone seen Tony Birbeck?

To the Black community, Tam is a vital artist. An artist whose work strengthens and reassures them, whilst at the same time taking racists and racism to task. When Tam showed with 19 or so other Black artists in “Into the Open” at the Mappin Art Gallery in 1984, his painting “UK School Report” stole the show, winning hearts and minds. “UK School Report” is an hilariously funny painting; which, considering the seriousness of its subject matter, is quite an achievement. The piece, sub-divided into three portraits, shows the passage of a Black youngster through the British non-education system. In the first portrait, the neat and tidy lad is “good at sports”. In the second portrait, the best his teachers can say about him is that he “likes music”. The third is inevitable: a few years of under-achievement at school have put him on the ‘other’ side of society and he “needs surveillance”. Take the painting home with you – buy a postcard of it.

The above extracts are from an Introduction by Eddie Chambers in Observers Are Worried: Paintings & Sculpture by Tam Joseph brochure. Exhibition held at St Pancras Library & Shaw Theatre Foyer, 8 November – 6 December 1986, reprinted in Scope magazine “for the young black adult”, Feb/March 1987: 66