Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Handsworth Songs

Tate Britain in London is currently showing films by the Black Audio Film Collective, including the excellent Handsworth Songs (1986). The film takes as its starting point the riots in Handsworth (Birmingham) in 1985, with its iconic images of burning cars and the then Home Secretary Douglas Hurd being confronted by an angry crowd.

photo credit: John Akomfrah: Handsworth Riots - Twenty Summers On
© Pogus Caesar / OOM Gallery Archive 1985

Arguing that 'there are no stories in the riots, only the ghosts of other stories', the film summons up some of these ghosts with early footage of hopeful migrants arriving in the 1950s cutting backwards and forwards to later experiences of racism - including harrassment on the streets of Handsworth and the death of Cynthia Jarrett following a police raid on her home in Tottenham (which sparked the Broadwater farm riots).

There's some interesting historical footage of Birmingham, including a 1937 Labour Day procession, Malcolm X on a visit to the city in the 1960s and the 1977 anti-National Front demonstrations in Handsworth. The soundtrack is similarly eclectic, ranging from Lord Kitchener to Mark Stewart and the Maffia's take on Jerusalem, alongside Trevor Mathison's brooding soundscape composed especially for the film. No inclusion of Steel Pulse's classic Handsworth Revolution though -maybe at the time it just seemed too obvious.

The film lasts about an hour and is being shown on continuous loop until May just off the main entrance hall at Tate.


StefanSzczelkun said...

What is it about the Tate that sucks the vital juices out of such radical stuff?

Anonymous said...

Follow the photo of Akomfrah, interesting archive on the people involved in Handsworth Songs go to: Pogus Caesar www.oomgallery.net (exhibitions page)

Marcel said...

BBC 1 "Inside Out"

Portrait of Handsworth riots 1985 by Pogus Caesar


Aamon said...


In April 2012 the Victoria and Albert Museum London, acquired four of Pogus Caesar's limited edition black and white photographs for their permanent collection. The archival photographs printed from vintage negatives depict the 1985 Handsworth Riots which took place in Birmingham UK.

What is now known as the Handsworth Riots lasted for two days. In the aftermath, well over 1500 police officers were drafted into the area and 50 shops were either burnt or looted. Damage to property was estimated at hundreds of thousands of pounds, 35 people were injured or hospitalised, 2 people unaccounted for and tragically 2 people lost their lives. Unfortunately some memories and crimes will never be forgotten or forgiven. Even today many people still question themselves and each other "how could a tiny spark turn into such a gigantic flame"?

Birmingham film maker and photographer Pogus Caesar found himself in the centre of the riots and managed to document these images. The stark black and white photographs provide a rare, valuable and historical record of the raw emotion, heartbreak and violence that unfolded during those dark and fateful days in September 1985.

BBC TV: Inside Out. http://www.mymodernmet.com/xn/detail/2100445:Video:840339