Benjamin Zephaniah – The Brighter Flame outdoor exhibition celebrates life of Birmingham poet

03 June 2024

  • City centre celebration of Birmingham-born poet, author, activist and actor
  • Outdoor photography exhibition between July 5-31, 2024

This summer a special exhibition celebrating the life of Birmingham poet and activist Benjamin Zephaniah will take place in the city centre.

The outdoor exhibition called ‘Benjamin Zephaniah – The Brighter Flame’ will take place between July 5-31, 2024. Created with the support and acknowledgment of the Zephaniah family, the exhibition will feature more than 20 specially curated artworks displayed in cabinets located in Victoria Square, Birmingham, as part of the 100 Days of Creativity programme.

In addition, flags designed in his memory will fly high on Colmore Row, the heart of Birmingham, while a Q&A with David O Springer, Zephaniah’s brother, plus poetry recitals from spoken-word performers will take place at The Exchange on Broad Street.

Zephaniah was recognised as 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.

The Brighter Flame will include 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 Brighter Flame will also feature stills from The Tiny Spark, a conceptual film featuring Zephaniah’s poetry and Caesar’s images in response to the Handsworth Riots of 1985.

The street exhibition will be accompanied by an invitation-only spoken word event at The Exchange on Broad Street and a Q&A with David O Springer, Zephaniah’s brother.

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

Ruth Millington said: “Benjamin Zephaniah was a true giant of literature with a lyrical prose and delivery that drew attention to the issues faced by so many.

“It’s only right his work continues to be recognised and celebrated, particularly in a format that takes his work to the streets through powerful photography and imagery.

“I hope The Brighter Flame continues to honour Benjamin Zephaniah’s memory in his hometown.”

Pogus Caesar added: “Benjamin Zephaniah was a local and international legend, an ordinary man who achieved extraordinary things.

“This exhibition, open to everyone, aims to tell one chapter in the multi-layered story of this humble man. Through talent and sheer determination, Benjamin Zephaniah proved what was possible and claimed the title, ‘Son of Birmingham’.”

Melanie Williams, Board Director at Colmore BID and Chair of Outstanding Places Working Group said: “It’s our honour to fund this fantastic free exhibition, The Brighter Flame, in tribute to Benjamin Zephaniah. Taking place in our District and across the city, we are proud to host this free exhibition that celebrates Zephaniah’s talent and contribution to Birmingham’s artistic landscape. We look forward to the local community joining us this July to honour his memory and creativity.”

Benjamin Zephaniah – The Brighter Flame is free to visit from July 5-31, 2024 at Victoria Square and along Colmore Row in Birmingham City Centre.

Exhibition partners: Colmore BIDCentral 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