Benjamin Zephaniah exhibition on display in Victoria Square

A special exhibition celebrating the life of Birmingham poet and activist Benjamin Zephaniah is now taking place across Birmingham city centre.

Described by the family of Zephaniah as an ‘amazing, iconic and beautiful tribute to Benjamin’, the outdoor exhibition ‘Benjamin Zephaniah – The Brighter Flame’ can be seen between July 5-31 in Victoria Square and Colmore Row.

Developed and funded by Colmore BID and created with the full support and acknowledgment of the Zephaniah family, the exhibition features more than 20 specially curated artworks displayed in large-format cabinets and flags as part of the city’s 100 Days of Creativity programme.

The Brighter Flame – installed by Central BID’s Business Support Officers – features large scale archival black and white portrait photographs of Zephaniah by Birmingham artist, Pogus Caesar, plus a series of poems and photographs by Zephaniah and Caesar taken from their first large-scale project, Handsworth 1985 Revisited.

The exhibition also features stills from The Tiny Spark, a conceptual film featuring Zephaniah’s poetry and Caesar’s images in response to the Handsworth Riots of 1985.

An invitation-only spoken word event at The Exchange on Broad Street featuring a Q&A with David O Springer, Zephaniah’s brother, also took place as part of the exhibition.

Zephaniah was recognised as a champion of the people and his death on December 7, 2023, aged 65, drew tributes from across the world.

Born in Handsworth and influenced strongly by what he described as ‘street politics’ and the music and poetry of Jamaica, Zephaniah was gifted an old typewriter as a child, which inspired him to become a writer. In recent years, the typewriter has been housed in the collection of Birmingham Museums Trust and photographs of it will feature in the exhibition.

Through his work, Zephaniah was inspired by music, his lived experiences in Birmingham and his Barbadian-Jamaican heritage. In 2008, he was included in The Times list of Britain’s top 50 post-war writers and won numerous awards and honorary doctorates for his literature. Zephaniah also made numerous acting and media appearances, most recently as the preacher Jeremiah Jesus in BBC’s Peaky Blinders.

Benjamin Zephaniah – The Brighter Flame has been developed and funded by Colmore BID, the Business Improvement District for the commercial district and co-curated by Pogus Caesar and art historian Ruth Millington.

A spokesperson for Benjamin Zephaniah’s family said: “The Brighter Flame exhibition is an amazing, iconic and beautiful tribute to Benjamin.

“The flagpoles now flying high over Birmingham’s streets and the boards in Victoria Square capture the very essence of what made Benjamin a truly inspirational and lovely man. They depict the many faces of Benjamin; the activist, the poet and author, the actor, the humanitarian, the voice of the marginalised and disenfranchised and Benjamin the family man.

“The settings for the exhibition represent places in Birmingham city centre where he frequently visited and in our minds we can see him smiling down on the streets of this fantastic exhibition.

“We feel it is a wonderful tribute for Benjamin, a son of Birmingham, to be honoured in this special and unique way.

“Benjamin gave such a lot to all communities across the world and particularly to the peoples of Birmingham, his home town. We know that The Brighter Flame exhibition will reach, inspire and inform both old and new fans of Benjamin and it is a fitting tribute for him to be remembered in this way.

“We feel grateful and humbled by the amazing efforts of those who have worked so hard to develop The Brighter Flame exhibition and we extend heartfelt thanks and appreciation, especially to Pogus Caesar, Ruth Millington, all of the exhibition team and to Colmore BID and Central BID.”

Melanie Williams, Board Director at Colmore BID and Chair of Outstanding Places Working Group, said: “We’re so proud that this fantastic free exhibition ‘The Brighter Flame’, funded by Colmore Business District, is now open! This celebration of Benjamin Zephaniah’s talent and contribution to Birmingham’s artist landscape cannot be underestimated and we hope as many people in the community as possible visit to honour him.”

Benjamin Zephaniah – The Brighter Flame: July 5-31 2024, Victoria Square, Birmingham.

Exhibition partners: Colmore BID, Central BID, OOM Gallery Archive, DACS/Artimage, Windrush Productions, The Family of Benjamin Zephaniah, Birmingham Museums Trust, University of Birmingham’s The Exchange and Castle Fine Art.

Pictures: Stacey Barnfield/Central BID