Black and white photograph of artist Maxine Walker, looking into camera, peeling something from her facial skin.

About Maxine Walker: Untitled

Untitled brings together a remarkable body of work by Birmingham artist Maxine Walker and is her most comprehensive exhibition to date. Walker was a prominent pioneer and champion of black British photography during the mid-1980s and 1990s. Her work is a poignant exploration of identity and black womanhood by a young artist at the height of her career, using photography to interrogate the intricacies of skin, blackness and being.

In her Untitled series from 1996, Walker presents herself to the camera in closely cropped black and white portraits, drawing our attention to the features of her face. The ten self-portraits share a charged visual journey of the artist seemingly peeling away multiple layers of skin, inviting the viewer to consider complex notions of beauty, masquerade and vulnerability. By magnifying the delicacy of skin, these performative works conjure a narrative that is more sinister than playful, implying that her blackness cannot – must not – be stripped away.

In other works Walker adopts the format of photo-booth photography to explore notions of identity, changing her hair and skin colour across the series in an instant transformation to subvert ideas around fixed cultural stereotypes. This series, on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London was commissioned for Self Evident, an exhibition of black photography curated by Mark Sealy for Ikon Gallery in 1995.

Also on display is a selection of materials from Autograph’s archive including artists’ prints from Black Beauty (1991) and The Bride (1989) alongside contact prints, journals and other ephemera from The Photographers Gallery collection.

This exhibition has been organised with Autograph, London and curated by Renée Mussai and Bindi Vora with additional loans from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and The Photographers’ Gallery, London.

Maxine Walker, Untitled, 1997. Courtesy of the artist and Autograph, London.