Firstsite, Colchester, is delighted to present Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere, an exhibition documenting the creation of Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing’s recently-unveiled statue of Suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett, situated in Parliament Square, London. It will also feature a number of works drawn from Wearing’s celebrated photographic series, Signs that Say What You Want Them To Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You To Say.
The title of the exhibition comes from Fawcett’s response to the death of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, knocked down by the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913. It is comprised of the original small-scale maquette of the statue, Wearing’s notes, designs and development research that chart its making, as well as 3D prints from the mould-making process – none of which have ever been shown in public before. The exhibition also includes materials and documents from Fawcett’s life and further explores the lives of other members of the suffrage movement, who are memorialised in the frieze that wraps the plinth of Wearing’s statue.
Following a campaign by activist Caroline Criado Perez for a statue of a woman to be put in Parliament Square, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, set up the Suffrage Statue Advisory Panel – which included Firstsite Director, Sally Shaw. Unveiled in April this year, Gillian Wearing’s statue of Millicent Fawcett marks the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act that gave some women over the age of 30 the vote. Not only is it the first ever monument to a woman to be erected in Parliament Square, it is also the first statue in the area to be made by a female artist. Alongside Fawcett, the names and portraits of 59 women and men who campaigned for women’s suffrage are inscribed on the plinth.
The sculpture depicts Fawcett at her most influential, in 1907 in her fifties, when she had become the president of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). At this point, Fawcett had been a part of the organisation for over ten years. She had campaigned tirelessly throughout her adult life, from gathering signatures for the first suffrage petition in 1866, to negotiating on women’s behalf with Members of Parliament.
Cast in bronze, Wearing’s statue of Fawcett is distinctly contemporary in its fabrication. To create the mould, Wearing worked with art fabricators MDM Props, who used photogrammetry to construct a three-dimensional image from a live female model, dressed in a tweed walking outfit. This was 3D-printed and a likeness of Fawcett was sculpted. The statue also incorporates scaled-up casts of Gillian Wearing’s own hands, holding the banner that reads ‘Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere’ and echoes the peaceful mottos carried by suffragist groups on their marches. It was cast by AB Fine Art Foundry, based in East London, who employs several female founders who were directly involved in its production.
In her conception of the Fawcett statue, Wearing drew on her previous body of work, Signs that Say What You Want Them To Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You To Say (1992-3). Arguably some of her most iconic images, Wearing approached strangers on the street and asked them to write down an inner thought on a large piece of white card. Those who agreed were then photographed by Wearing holding up their personal statement, making their private feelings into a public work of art. The most famous, included here, depicts a clean-cut man in a suit holding a card with the words “I’m desperate”.
Seen within the context of this exhibition, the ‘Signs’ works reflect upon Wearing’s trajectory as an artist, and her fitting commemoration of an individual woman who achieved extraordinary change for the lives of women through dedicated public activism.
In conjunction with the exhibition, Caroline Criado Perez will give a talk at Firstsite on Wednesday 28 November 2018, discussing her campaign to commemorate the Suffragist leader and redress the gender imbalance in Parliament Square. Criado Perez will also discuss earlier campaigns including her successful efforts to see Jane Austen on the ten pound note.
Says Firstsite Director Sally Shaw: ‘Being invited to take part in the advisory panel to select an artist to commemorate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act was a huge honour. Gillian’s proposal was a stand-out artwork from the outset, combining her incredible reputation and artistic integrity with her personal politics and exceptional sensitivity to material and creative process.
‘Gillian managed to bring all our hopes and expectations to life in commemorating Millicent Fawcett and the many other people who brought about the 1918 Act in the form she has chosen. This was probably the most daunting proposition an artist can face, and as with all great artists, Gillian has created a timeless work that will inspire many generations of people to come.
‘To show the story of ‘the making of Millicent’ is a unique opportunity for Firstsite. The exhibition will provide a once-in-a-lifetime chance for visitors to go ‘behind the scenes’ of the making process to understand how this historic artwork came into being.’
Gillian Wearing’s statue of Millicent Fawcett was commissioned by the Mayor of London with 14-18 NOW, Firstsite and Iniva to commemorate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, through the Government’s national centenary fund.
The exhibition Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere has been supported by the Coode-Adams Firstsite Trust and the Mayor of London’s Fourth Plinth Programme. With thanks to the Greater London Authority, Fawcett Society and LSE Women’s Library.
Opening celebration: 9 November, 6 – 8pm
Opening times: Monday- Sunday, 10am – 5pm