11 Nov 2019

Birmingham Revolutions – Power to the People

“Power in the hand of ignorance, is an edge-tool of the most dangerous kind.” – William Hutton, Birmingham Historian (1781).

From the Priestley Riots of 1791 all the way through to the LGBTQ+ campaigns of today, the ‘Birmingham Revolutions – Power to the People’ exhibition is a chance to discover the different voices and ideas that have contributed to the fight for a better Birmingham. 

Birmingham Museums new dynamic storytelling programme is a brand new project designed to try out the new displays and ideas we have for our future museum galleries. Galleries 12 and 13 will become a testing space for us to see what you, our visitors want to experience at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. 

Birmingham Women's Suffrage Society Banner, 1908

Image: Birmingham Women's Suffrage Society Banner, 1908.

‘Birmingham Revolutions’ will be one of the first testing exhibitions to be held in this space. This display will explore the city’s vibrant and varied history of protest and activism and the role Birmingham has played in some of the most important campaigns and movements in British history. We will look at campaigns such as voting reform, nuclear disarmament, trade unionism, anti-racism and human rights. ‘Birmingham Revolutions’ aims to show all the different ways in which a person can protest and campaign, what we can learn from past protests, and show everything we as a city have achieved so far. 

Art, film, music, literature, clothing and objects will be used in each section of the gallery for you to discover the long history of gatherings, riots, strikes and campaigns that have occurred in the city. 

You can see the banners used by the Birmingham Political Union in the 1830s, CRW Nevinson’s 1916 anti-war painting La Patrie, news bulletins from the 1926 General Strike, placards from the Rover demonstrations and much more! 

La Patrie, by CRW Nevinson (1916)

Image: La Patrie, by CRW Nevinson (1916).

For the first time we will also be displaying a Gibson Les Paul guitar played by Basil Gabbidon from Steel Pulse. Formed in Handsworth in 1975, Steel Pulse became one of Britain’s most successful roots reggae bands. Their first album Handsworth Revolution (1979) spoke of the racism, violence and discrimination experienced by black people in Birmingham in the 1970s and 80s. They performed at the ‘Rock against Racism’ concert in Victoria Park, London in 1978 and went on to win a Grammy for their 6th album Babylon the Bandit (1986).

However, this exhibition is by no means complete. Part of the gallery will be our engagement area, where we want you to play an active part in the development of this exhibition. We want your ideas, opinions, feedback, and even your objects to help develop ‘Birmingham Revolutions’ further. There will be opportunities both in the gallery and through our events programme for you to contribute your memories, information and objects from campaigns both past and present to the exhibition. 

‘Birmingham Revolutions – Power to the People’ opens 7 December 2019 in Gallery 13.