Westside joins in special tribute to hometown poet Benjamin Zephaniah

The brother of Benjamin Zephaniah will be leading the tributes to the Birmingham-born poet, actor and activist during a month-long celebration of his life and work.

A series of poetry recitals from spoken-word performers will take place at The Exchange on Broad Street as part of an exhibition entitled Benjamin Zephaniah – The Brighter Flame, which will take place across the city centre between 5 and 31 July.

The invitation-only event at The Exchange will also feature a special Q&A session with Zephaniah’s brother, David O Springer.

The main part of the exhibition, funded by Colmore BID, will be held at nearby Victoria Square.

Created with the support and acknowledgment of the Zephaniah family, it will consist of more than 20 specially curated artworks displayed in cabinets as part of the 100 Days of Creativity programme.

In addition, flags designed in his memory, will fly high on Colmore Row.

Benjamin Zephania, 1987

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

He was influenced strongly by what he described as ‘street politics’ and the music and poetry of Jamaica. He was inspired to become a writer after being gifted an old typewriter as a child, now housed in the Birmingham Museums Trust collection.

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. He also made numerous acting and media appearances, most recently as the preacher Jeremiah Jesus in BBC’s Peaky Blinders.

The exhibition 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.

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

Westside BID general manager Mike Olley said: “Benjamin Zephaniah was one of the truly great sons of this wonderful city of ours and we still feel his sad loss. We are honoured to be honouring him on Westside as part of this special exhibition in his name.”

Pogus Caesar, who co-curated the exhibition with art historian Ruth Millington, said: “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, he proved what was possible and claimed the title, ‘Son of Birmingham’.”

Ruth Millington added: “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.”

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