Forward – Argentea Gallery


Forward is an exhibition of photographic work by Irish artist Gwen Wilkinson which is inspired by Birmingham’s industrial, political and social history.

In this exhibition Wilkinson uses cyanotype which is a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print. The striking ‘Wedgwood blue’ colour of the cyanotype process is a specific tribute to the work of the famous potter Josiah Wedgwood who was a founding member of The Lunar Society and his son Thomas who was an early experimenter in photography.

There is a nod to the cameos that formed a large part of Wedgwood’s Jasper production in the piece entitled ‘1974’. This is a sobering installation comprising of two vintage silver jewellery boxes  which were made in the Jewellery Quarter inlaid with cyanotype prints of the two pubs that were devastated by the Birmingham pub bombings and a series of cachabons which individually list the victims names. 

Another significant work in the exhibition is ‘Wall of Wonder’ a large-scale series of 80 cyanotypes spanning an entire wall of the gallery which depicts highlights of significant events, inventions and people from the 13th Century to the present day.

Featuring inventions such as Bird’s custard and celluloid which was invented by Alexander Parkes it’s easy to see from this piece why Birmingham earned the nickname as the ‘city of a thousand trades’. There were lots of facts and people associated with Birmingham that I wasn’t aware of prior to this exhibition so it’s worth visiting if you’re remotely interested in the heritage of our city. 


Wilkinson utilises cyanotypes in a number of different mediums in this exhibition. Standout pieces include cyanotype pinhole paper prints interpreting three poems by Lunar Society member Erasmus Darwin and a mural depicting skeletal leaf prints, which is in reference to the attempts by Thomas Wedgwood to find a way to permanently “fix” a photographic image. 



It’s clear that Forward is a tribute to this city and its rich history as Argentea’s website notes that the collection reflects Wilkinson’s deep fascination with the city and its history. The artist explains: “I don’t think people outside of Birmingham realise quite what a fascinating place it really is nor the vital role its Lunar Society played in the advancement of science, engineering, manufacturing and the arts. This exhibition is a site-specific response to my many visits to Birmingham over the years and each piece of work relates to notable points in its history and to the remarkable people responsible for the city’s identity.”

If you’re a fan of this exhibition you’ll be pleased to know that all the pieces on display will be available to purchase.

Ends 7th September, free entry. For further information about this exhibition click here.

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