Unlocked is a fantastic exhibition running at Birmingham Museum. Having lived in Birmingham for just over a year now (and growing up just down the road) Brum has always been a vibrant and colourful city for me. This exhibition is a chance to delve into the lives of women in the city, covering a vast array of aspects of history and life in Birmingham. The exhibition had quotes, audio books and artefacts all helping to tell these women’s stories. Such as Zaida Begum on racial equality and Islamophobia “How do I see myself? I’m a British Muslim, I’m a Brummie.” Which I think was my favourite quote of the exhibition.
There are some brilliant stories to be heard such as Ruth Middleton on coming out in the 1980’s. Ruth moved to Birmingham in her early 20’s with her partner to find a more exciting life. She spoke (via audio book) about the problems she encountered with the National Front movement, having her tire’s slashed and car keyed. She spoke of how she felt there was no place for her, Nightingales being the only gay club in the city was predominately a male club. During the 1980s there was widespread oppression and lack of understanding towards gay rights that spread even to government. At the exhibition I learned about Section 28 which was passed under Thatcher’s government and prohibited “the promotion of homosexuality in public area’s including schools” this prevented teacher’s teaching that homosexual couples could be seen as a positive family unit. There were some stickers from 1987 in the museum that were used to protest; the sticker’s had brilliant slogans such as “We’re out and we’re staying out” and “Break the silence.”
Another really interesting and hard-hitting story was that of Dorothy, she worked for ‘brook’ when it was still a new venture in the 1970’s. The brook offered emergency contraception and advice to young women in the city regardless of age. Dorothy explained they faced demonstrations and protest as people disagreed with the work they were doing. It’s people like Ruth and Dorothy who, just by living their lives, meant that this generation of young women in Birmingham have access to vital services like the brook and are able to freely express themselves and be who they want to be.
The brilliance of the collection is how it deals with massive social issues via the voices of real women. Issues such as women’s equality, the pro-choice movement, gay rights and racial equality are all displayed via the women who lived through them; by the women who fought and saw the change within the city.
By Noemi Barranca