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Tam Joseph


Born in Dominica in 1947, Tam Joseph came to London aged eight. He trained at the Central School of Art, Slade School of Art and London College of Printing. Defying any one style, medium or theme, he works in paint, digital media, steel, sculpture and collage. His work is often astute and filled with wry socio-political commentary.

Monkey dey Chop, Baboon dey Cry (1984) is an acrylic painting that draws on the pidgin axiom “Monkey dey work, Baboon dey Chop”, referencing corruption and benefiting from the labour of others. Joseph images a bright scorching landscape of an unknown African country. It is populated with distorted figures, including an official in uniform, a black person labouring with a baby on their back, a severely emaciated figure and a white man in a suit taking notes on the scene.

UK School Report (1983) is made up of three separate portraits and seems to show the progression of a student through his time in the school system. The first portrait reads “good at sports”, possibly demonstrating a lack of consideration of his academic talents. The second notes that he “likes music” and the third that he “needs surveillance”. The work explosively comments on the stereotyping of black young people and the failings of the schooling system. Through the work’s directness, Joseph enhances the impact on the viewer through a simple visual vocabulary. He uses simple lines and block colours, omitting any background. The red, white and blue tones reiterate how the student’s British nationality is overlooked in this racial profiling.

Spirit of the Carnival (1988) depicts London’s annual Notting Hill Carnival. A central figure, a dancer in traditional raffia costume, the detailing of the outfit heightened to look as if ablaze, is surrounded by a sea of police with shields. A police dog breaks this circular composition as it leaps at the dancer, snarling. This work aptly comments on the growing police presence at the Carnival, considering how the event and the Black community is associated with criminal activity in the media and by the police.

Joseph’s work is held in public collections such as at the Arts Council, Contemporary Art Society, Sheffield City Art Gallery, Museum of London and Victoria & Albert Museum. He has been exhibited nationally and internationally, from Nïmes to Senegal. Recent shows in which he has taken part include Unexpected: Continuing Narratives of Identity and Migration, Ben Uri Gallery and Museum, London (2016), and Black Art in Focus, Wolverhampton Art Gallery (2016). His work was also shortlisted for “Favourite Art Fund work of 2016” by the Arts Council’s Art Fund.


Tam Joseph (b. 1947)

Spirit of the Carnival, 1988

The work offers a political commentary on increasing police presence at London’s annual Notting Hill Carnival. A defiant masquerader is surrounded on all sides by uniformed police officers with riot shields.


On loan from Victoria & Albert Museum

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