Behind the new Birmingham Forward crest: Katharine Wade
You may recall Ikon’s 2018 exhibition Young Birmingham Artists: Ikon artists from the 1960s that looked back at work by Ikon’s founding artists, now we look forward. Forward: New Art from Birmingham is open at Medicine Bakery and Gallery until 24 March and showcases work from a thriving community of contemporary artists who represent the culture in the city today. Katharine Wade, the artist behind the new Forward crest, reveals the inspirations and meanings behind her design.
What has inspired your design of the new Forward Birmingham coat of arms?
The coat of arms of Birmingham has evolved a fair bit since it came into official use in 1838. It was originally the family crest of the mostly forgotten de Bermingham family, who held the lordship of Birmingham in England for four hundred years. When it came to modernising the imagery for Ikon’s show I knew my priority was to move away from an old noble family that few are even aware of and reclaim it for what Birmingham is today. It more or less incorporates the same symbolism, with the left representing culture and the right industry. It was important for the word Forward to remain boldly represented in the centre, as now more than ever, the city is further evolving and modernising.
Can you explain the iconography behind your design?
For the right side of ‘culture’, I started to think about the roles of artists today and art’s connection to having a voice and protest, especially in these difficult times of austerity. Historically, print makers were often used to address social and political themes and issues, and that history is well documented. Therefore I felt it was important to incorporate that into the side that celebrates the arts in the city. The left side for ‘industry’ was simpler, and I just portrayed a worker in attire that is very recognisable for the people of Birmingham, with years of redevelopment in the works right now. Both characters were moved from looking inwards towards the crest to outwards facing the unknown.
In the original, an armour helmet took pride of place in the centre, which was clearly symbolic of strength and courage. Thinking about what represents those qualities nowadays, I began to focus on the art of protest and resistance in the world today. I wanted to replace the castle with the iconic old Central Library. In replacement of the banner-like patterns in the old crest I knew I wanted some sort of foliage and after a little research I found that Foxglove flowers are the official county flower of the West Midlands.
With pride we have in the number of canals in and around Birmingham, seeing slow boats held in place with decking rope and rigging is a familiar sight so it was essential to incorporate them into the design. Though the old original crest remains in the final design, I felt our familiar symbol of the Bull should replace the detail in the centre. Likewise, a spray can was chosen instead of the mallet; the street art in Birmingham is a source of pride to many people and is often celebrated.
Forward: New Art from Birmingham is a group exhibition, including work by approximately twenty five artists, living and working in this city, to highlight the depth and vitality of a wide range of practices. Taking place in Medicine, the old gallery space of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, from which sprang the young generation that founded Ikon more than 50 years ago, it couldn’t be more in keeping with their progressive ethos, still informing our artistic programme to this day.
Open 23 January — 24 March 2019. Entry is free, open daily 10am-5pm, at Medicine Bakery and Gallery. 69 New Street, Birmingham B2 4DU. Please note Medicine Bakery is only accessible via a steep staircase.