A Real Birmingham Family is Ikonâ€™s four-year project with Birmingham-born, Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing: a quest to find a â€˜realâ€™ Birmingham family and immortalise it in bronze. The sculpture now stands in Centenary Square, outside the new Library of Birmingham.
The project draws attention to the unsung, raising questions about civic identity and what constitutes a family today. During 2011 and 2012, residents of Birmingham were urged to nominate their families to be the face of Birmingham. No limits were placed on how the 21st century family might define itself and nominations were received from hundreds of participants.
In August 2013, the Jones family, consisting of two sisters, Roma and Emma, both single parents, and their two sons Kyan and Shaye, were selected as A Real Birmingham Family by the artist and a diverse panel of community, cultural and religious figures. The selection was finalised following discussions between the panel members on what constitutes a Birmingham family: multiple generations, friendships and diversity as well as evidential links to the city.
Wearing works across a wide range of media including photography, video, performance and sculpture, often drawing on social, personal and political sources to create a visual language that shows the many sides of contemporary life. Her work is characterised by an engagement with the lives of others and her own family history.
The concept for A Real Birmingham Family developed from a past project Wearing undertook in Italy, A Typical Trentino Family (2008), where a local family was selected to be immortalised in a bronze sculpture. During the process the artist worked with statisticians who gave her the break down of what the typical family in Trento consisted of; their definitions of a family were surprisingly wide-ranging and included one person living alone. Wearing found this an inclusive way of regarding family and applied it to the search in Birmingham.
Wearing explains: “I really liked how Roma and Emma Jones spoke of their closeness as sisters and how they supported each other, it seemed a very strong bond, one of friendship and family, and the sculpture puts across that connectedness between them. A nuclear family is one reality but it is one of many and this work celebrates the idea that what constitutes a family should not be fixed.”
Stuart Tulloch, curator at Ikon, stated: “The variety of nominations to A Real Birmingham Family has shown to us that whilst the traditional, nuclear family may no longer be the norm, the ties that bind us together are as strong as ever. The sculpture will draw attention to the everyday and the unsung; a lasting memorial to the people of Birmingham who are the life-blood of our city.”
Councillor Ian Ward, deputy leader of Birmingham City Council, stated: “The A Real Birmingham Family sculpture reflects the many ways in which people live their family lives in the city today. I hope it will provoke discussion and challenge preconceptions, which is such an important function of public art.”
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Notes to Editors
- To download a photograph of the sculpture go to: http://www.flickr.com/photos/birminghamnewsroom/15481619107/
- Ikon is a registered charity and is supported using public funding from Arts Council England and Birmingham City Council.
- A Real Birmingham Family is funded by Birmingham City Council, Arts Council England and Ikonâ€™s Friends of the Family.
- Gillian Wearing is a British artist, born in 1963. Emerging during the 1990s, she was awarded the Turner Prize in 1997 and elected as a lifetime member of the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 2007. She was awarded the OBE in 2011. Gillian Wearing has been nominated for The Vincent Award 2014, which is currently on show at The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague, Netherlands until 1 February 2015. Recent solo exhibitions also include We Are Here, currently running at Maureen Paley, London, until 16 November 2014.
- The Judging Panel included:
Stacey Barnfield, Editor, Birmingham Post
Micaela Boas, Outset Family
Brian Gambles, Chief Executive, Library of Birmingham Development Trust
Jonathan Gurling, Executive Secretary, Birmingham Faith Leadersâ€™ Group
Ian Taylor, Club Ambassador, Aston Villa Football Club
Jonathan Watkins, Director, Ikon
Gillian Wearing, Artist
Polly Welsby, Ikon Youth Programme
Dr. Elizabeth Yardley, School of Social Sciences, Birmingham City University