Uncovering the making of Gillian Wearing’s statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square

Millicent Fawcett Statue Unveiling, 24 April 2018. Courtesy Greater London Authority. Photo by Caroline Teo

Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere documents the creation of Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing’s recently-unveiled statue of Suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett, situated in Parliament Square, London. Exhibiting at Firstsite, Colchester, the show 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, Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere, 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”.

Gillian Wearing, Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say I’M DESPERATE, 1992–3, c-type print on aluminium, 44.5 x 29.7 cm © Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London, Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles

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.

Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere will exhibit at Firstsite, Colchester from 10 November 2018 until 12 May 2019.

For further information: https://firstsite.uk/whats-on/courage-calls-to-courage-everywhere/

Freelance journalist covering fine art, photography, film and tech. UK based

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store