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Ikon Gallery hits back over Real Birmingham Family statue outcry

Created by Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing, the life-sized bronze sculpture depicts a pregnant Emma Jones, 27, and her sister Roma, 29, with children Kyan, four, and Shaye, five

'A Real Birmingham Family' statue with (from left) Roma Jones, artist Gillian Wearing, Shaye-Jones Amin, Emma Jones and her son Isaac, Kyan Ishann Jones
'A Real Birmingham Family' statue with (from left) Roma Jones, artist Gillian Wearing, Shaye-Jones Amin, Emma Jones and her son Isaac, Kyan Ishann Jones

The art gallery behind the controversial £150,000 statue of a ‘real Birmingham family’ depicting two single mothers has defended its decision.

The sculpture – A Real Birmingham Family – has sparked an incredible response, with commentators lining up to slam the public artwork unveiled outside the Library of Birmingham last week.

Created by Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing, the life-sized bronze sculpture depicts a pregnant Emma Jones, 27, and her sister Roma, 29, with children Kyan, four, and Shaye, five.

The artwork was created after the Ikon Gallery raised £150,000 and scoured the city for the right family with the aim of challenging the notion of what constituted a “real family” today and represent Birmingham’s cultural diversity.

Stuart Tulloch, Ikon Gallery curator, said: “The Jones, were selected from more than 350 self-nominated applicants by a panel of judges comprising community, cultural and religious figures.

“No limits were placed on how the 21st century family might define itself, with nominations encouraged from foster families, groups of friends or even single people.

“The sculpture does not attempt to immortalise a ‘typical’ or ‘average’ Birmingham family, or be representative of all families in the city.

“The judgment about what a ‘real’ family in Birmingham looks like recognises the shifting demographics of the city and new definitions of family as more and more families acknowledge ‘halves’ and ‘steps’, as well as cultural, racial and sexual diversity within themselves.

“It was a unanimous decision that the Jones family become the subject of the sculpture. Their story is compelling and says much about contemporary Birmingham – two mixed-race sisters, with happy, lively young boys, who identify themselves strongly with the city of their birth.

“We hope that Gillian’s sculpture will be respected for its intentions – a monument to real people in Birmingham.”

A furious Fathers for Justice campaigner targeted the statue just two days after it was unveiled, complaining about the lack of a father figure.

Bobby Smith, 32, stuck photos of himself and his two young daughters on the artwork and threw a sheet over the other mother.

He 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.”

Right wing commentator and former Tory party spin doctor Amanda Platell wrote: “What a sad betrayal of the traditional values that held great communities like Birmingham together.

“What a triumph for the Left’s determination to undermine the nuclear family that has been the bedrock of civilised society for centuries.

Artist Gillian Wearing at the unveiling of the 'A Real Birmingham Family' statue outside the Library of Birmingham
Artist Gillian Wearing at the unveiling of the 'A Real Birmingham Family' statue outside the Library of Birmingham

“Indeed, Roma and Emma were themselves raised by their single mother in a Birmingham council house and were by all accounts well-rounded, polite young girls.

“I’m sure they are equally loving mothers to their own children.

“But to claim that they represent a typical family is crass, misleading and deeply cynical.”

The sisters and their children join the likes of Queen Victoria, Matthew Boulton and Tony Hancock in being immortalised in Birmingham statues.

The Jones sisters said in a statement: “Being mixed race, we feel at home here as it’s so diverse and multicultural.

“As a result, we believe the mixed-race population in Brum will only increase. We feel truly amazed and honoured to be chosen to represent what it means to be a family in Birmingham.”

Ms Wearing, who hails from Birmingham and attended Dartmouth High School, said: “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.”

Ms Wearing won the Turner Prize in 1997 for video 60 minutes of Silence, where a group of actors were dressed in police uniforms and had to stand still for an hour.

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