Gillian Wearing’s ‘Real Birmingham Family,’ a sculpture dedicated last week, in front of Birmingham’s library, has been defaced by a Fathers for Justice campaigner. The Turner Prize winning artist used the work to celebrate a ‘real’ Birmingham family, which happens to be a single parent family.
The project draws attention to the unsung, raising questions about civic identity and what constitutes a family today. During 2011/12, residents were urged to nominate their families to be the face of Birmingham. Ikon toured to many different locations within the city and over 350 families responded. No limits were placed on how the twenty-first century family might define itself and nominations included groups of friends, extended families and people living alone.
Bobby Smith, a 32 year old stuck photos of himself and his two young daughters onto the artwork which was designed to depict an ‘ordinary’ city family. He also threw a sheet over one of the mums. The dad-of-two said the statue, unveiled suggested fathers were not an important part of family life.
Mr Smith, who travelled from his home in Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, for the one-man protest, said: “They’ve depicted the normal family with no fathers. “There’s nothing wrong with single mothers but this statue is saying one person can do both jobs, and I believe kids are always better off with both parents in their lives.“This is a statue that is potentially going to be around for hundreds of years and it’s not a great thing to show young people.“I thought I was going to get a lot of verbal abuse but people have been so supportive – especially women”, he added.
Ms 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: