Faith, Empire & Sexuality

A big win in the region this week for Culture and the Arts. Jas Sansi looks at three exhibitions currently running at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.


The Midlands enjoyed positive national news coverage this week. Coventry will be the UK City of Culture 2021. Congratulations to all those involved in the process.

Coventry is one of four cities in the West Midlands Combined Authority, the others being Birmingham, Lichfield and Wolverhampton. It’s important the full potential of each of these cities is leveraged to benefit the entire region. 

Coventry as City of Culture 2021 and Birmingham hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2022 (scheduled to be confirmed this week) is exactly the leverage we need, to build on our success. As a region we have a lot to be proud of. 

If a week is a long time in Politics, then three years until 2021 is a custodial sentence. No need to start counting bricks just yet, there is a mesmerising trio of exhibitions currently running at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery; Finding Faith, The Past is Now and Coming Out.

Finding Faith is a journey through the world’s major religions. There are objects and artefacts, icons and symbols which bring to life many of the faiths represented in Birmingham. 


The Sultanganj Buddha (above) was buried in India for 500 years for its protection. Find out how it was discovered and how it found a home in Brum. 


As a Sikh, I was fascinated by this coin (above) from The Golden Temple in Amritsar. Pressed in 1898, the coin depicts the founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak Dev Ji with two companions, one a Muslim, the other Hindu.

The Golden Temple has four entrances, one on each side illustrating it welcomes people of all faiths and those of no faith from all parts of the world.


The image above illustrates a detail from a stained glass exhibit. I learned this week, the stained glass in Birmingham Cathedral was removed during World War 2 and stored in a Welsh mine to protect it from German bombers. It was safely return and reinstalled after the war ended. 

The Past is Now; Birmingham and the British Empire offers a new perspective of the thorny subject of colonialism.


One of the first sculptures you see when entering the gallery is Sir Jacob Epstein’s depiction of Satan. The artist is also responsible for the bronze head of Rabindranath Tagore. The Indian writer was the first non-European to be awarded the Nobel prize. Rabindranath Tagore was the first to describe Gandhi as ‘Mahatma’ meaning ‘Great Soul.’


There is a wall for visitor comments. The words above illustrate the complexities of political decisions that impact people in different ways. I had to Google the word ‘abrogated’, its means ‘to repeal or do away with a law, right or formal agreement.’

The third exhibition is ‘Coming Out.’ This celebrates the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 1967. The ruling partially decriminalised sex between men, in private, in England and Wales. It was a significant step forward in the ongoing campaign for equality for gay men and the broader LGBT+ community. 


The exhibition had a two part launch beginning at Birmingham New Street Station before moving over to its home in the gallery’s Gas Hall. 


The painting above by David Hockney was painted in 1966 and won the John Moores Painting Prize in 1967 the same year the Sexual Offences Act was passed. 


Coming Out was officially opened by Birmingham born Joe Lycett with the performance artists who made the launch one of the most striking seen in the city.

The Edwardian Tearooms will keep you hydrated should you choose to visit all three exhibitions on the same day. It’s a day you will remember forever. 

Full set of images from Finding Faith:

Full set of images from The Past is Now:

Full set of images from Coming Out:


Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery Chamberlain Square, Birmingham, B3 3DH

Jas Sansi is a freelance photographer based in Birmingham, a columnist for The Asian Today and LoveBrum Trustee @jassansi