When the new Faith in Birmingham Gallery was opened at the Museum & Art Gallery last year, its focus was on six faiths: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism. But many more are practised in the city and we were told that changes would be made on a regular basis in the side cases dealing with the practical aspects of religious life. Obviously, large items owned by the Museum, such as the Sultanganj Buddha, the painting “Prayers in the Desert” and the stained glass window from the Black Country, would remain a constant; but even here loans from other museums might make a difference. So, for example, a beautiful 13th century stone statue of Ganesh on tour from the British Museum was ceremonially installed by the city’s Hindu community in September last year, in place of the Museum’s own example, and was on show for three months. Two successive ancient manuscripts of the Qur’an were likewise on display.
Meanwhile consultations with other communities were taking place behind the scenes, some involving members of BCF’s committee. The four faiths involved were Bahai, Jains, Mandaeans and Rastafarians. Having decided on appropriate items and collected them from households in the city, the changeover in the cases was made last month and celebrated at a ceremony in the Gallery on 18 March. Many of them centre on personal practice and reading in the home, but the statue of the Mahavir, founder of Jainism, stands out in a lighted case all its own. This replaces, for the moment anyway, the statue from the British Museum once on display in the former Buddha Gallery.
The new Gallery’s aim is to remind visitors that, beside their artistic value, religious artefacts are a central part of the spiritual life of Birmingham’s diverse communities. BCF has welcomed the opportunity to be involved in its development. And not the least benefit has been the opportunity to make new contacts and explore the possibilities of extending the coverage of our series of faith brochures still further!