Tam Joseph: Learning to Walk

... The canvas is large, with eight precisely selected images run across it. All but the last image have similarly precise corresponding words below them. Crawl, step, stride, stumble, fall, stance and march. Still further, below these words there first appears a single hand print, then seven footsteps. Above the chronological fresco, across the top of the canvas, there appear the words LEARNING TO WALK. As with Big Yellow, I Was Never Any Good at Equations, and other recent paintings by Joseph, Learning to Walk is executed in minimal colours – a rich brown, sensitively applied on a golden yellow ground. With its considered yet demanding composition, and its thoughtful, restrained use of image and text. Learning to Walk promises to be the focal point of this exhibition.

The painting begins with a motif of an African hunter, reminiscent of early prehistoric African cave paintings. Below the corresponding word ‘crawl’ there appears a hand print. This figure evolves, or develops, from ma ‘crawl’ to a ‘step’, in the form of a stepping Egyptian. Here Joseph is briefly returning to the theme developed in Hey! You Forgot to Blacken Me In. That is, the reclamation of Egypt and Egyptian history as part and parcel of Africa and African history. By now the ‘step’ has become a stride, and a large devouring snake indicates the power and status of Africa in earlier times. An ominous cross marks the beginning of our ‘stumble’, and a manacled man, helplessly falling, graphically indicates our ‘fall’.

The next image is apparently based on an old Ashanti symbol for unity. The image is that of two crocodiles, joined at the tail, both consuming the same fish. The corresponding word is ‘stance’, and the message is clear: ‘Rise oh fallen fighters; Rise and take your stance again’. From there, the painting quickly progresses, (Quite literally moving on to another canvas) and illustrates the necessary spiritual base to our struggle. ‘March’ is symbolised by two hands, brought together to indicate and affirm the spiritual unity and spiritual oneness that is central to our ‘learning to walk’ again. The rest, as they say, is history. Or it will be...

The above extracts are from an Introduction by Eddie Chambers in Tam Joseph, Learning to Walk catalogue. Exhibition organised by Bedford Hill Gallery in conjunction with Rochdale Art Gallery, and touring to several venues, including the Royal Festival Hall, London, 12 December 1989 – 4 February 1990