Benjamin Zephaniah – The Brighter Flame Exhibition

05 - 31 July 2024
Victoria Square, Birmingham, Birmingham, UK

This summer, a special exhibition celebrating the life of Birmingham poet, author, actor and activist Professor Benjamin Zephaniah will take place across the city centre.

The free, multi-site outdoor exhibition named ‘Benjamin Zephaniah – The Brighter Flame’ will take place between July 5-31. 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, next to the fountains and Birmingham Town Hall.

In addition, flags designed in his memory will fly high on Colmore Row, the heart of Birmingham, while a Q&A with David Springer, Zephaniah’s brother, will take place at The Exchange on Broad Street. Local poets will also present a selection of Zephaniah’s work taken from Handsworth 1985 Revisited and The Tiny Spark.

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

Photo for BBC. Pogus Caesar Benjamin Zephaniah copy Benjamin Zephaniah – The Brighter Flame Exhibition
Pogus Caesar and Benjamin Zephaniah by Pogus Caesar, 2011. © Pogus Caesar/ OOM Gallery Archive/DACS/Artimage

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 at Birmingham Museums Trust and photographs of it will feature in the exhibition.

Through his eloquent and prolific 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 multiple 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.

Additionally the exhibition 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.

This multi-site exhibition 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 art and literature with a musical 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 inspire debate and honour his memory.”

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

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, A 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.”

This free exhibition, aims to tell one significant 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’.

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 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

The exhibition has been developed with the support of Zephaniah’s family.

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