A 13 metre-long embroidery by British artist Cornelia Parker has been unveiled today at the British Library. Stitched by over 200 carefully selected individuals, many of whom have a connection to civil liberties and the law including almost 40 prisoners, the artwork depicts the Magna Carta Wikipedia page as it appeared last year on the document’s 799th birthday.
Announced today for the first time is the full list of contributors chosen by Cornelia to embroider the thousands of words, symbols and images that comprise the webpage.
Each stitching words or phrases significant to them, the list ranges from director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti (stitching ‘Charter of Liberties’) and Baroness Doreen Lawrence (‘justice’, ‘denial’ and ‘delay’) to Lord Igor Judge and Lady Judith Judge (‘Habeas Corpus’ – a phrase rejected by one of the many prisoners stitching the embroidery), and from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales (‘user’s manual’) and Edward Snowden (‘liberty’) to Jarvis Cocker (‘Common People’).
“I wanted to create a portrait of our age”, says Cornelia Parker.
“All these people have their own opinions about democracy today and I thought carefully about the words they should stitch. For instance, Baroness Warsi, Eliza Manningham-Buller, Julian Assange and numerous prisoners have all stitched the word ‘freedom’, but all have different relationships to it.”
The bulk of the text of the Wikipedia page has been embroidered in various prisons by inmates under the supervision of Fine Cell Work, a social enterprise that trains prisoners in paid, skilled, creative needlework. The detailed pictures, emblems and logos that punctuate the text have been fashioned by highly accomplished members of the Embroiderers' Guild, a national charity that promotes and encourages the art of embroidery and related crafts, alongside embroiderers from the Royal School of Needlework and the leading embroidery company Hand & Lock.
“I love the idea of taking something digital and making it into an analogue, hand-crafted thing”, says Cornelia.
“I wanted the embroidery to raise questions about where we are now with the principles laid down in the Magna Carta, and about the challenges to all kinds of freedoms that we face in the digital age. Like a Wikipedia article, this embroidery is multi-authored and full of many different voices. ”
Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, says:
“Cornelia Parker’s Magna Carta (An Embroidery) takes shared onscreen content back into the world of physical things. It’s a unique project, and one of the least expected things to come out of Wikipedia! I commend the ethos of the work which echoes Wikipedia’s guiding principles of generosity, thoughtfulness, passion and tolerance. As someone who edits Wikipedia daily, to witness this huge replica of one page, frozen in time and made through collective endeavour, is humbling and should encourage everyone who sees it to reflect on collaboration, justice, fairness and equality.”
Magna Carta (An Embroidery) was commissioned by the Ruskin School of Art at the University of Oxford in partnership with the Library and is part of a major programme of events, exhibitions and digital projects at the Library examining Magna Carta in this 800th anniversary year. It runs alongside the Library’s largest ever exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy (open until 1 September) and on 15 June, exactly 800 years after Magna Carta was sealed, Cornelia Parker, Jimmy Wales and Roly Keating will be in conversation at the Library exploring the ideas behind the artwork.
Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, says:
“For visitors to the British Library this summer, Cornelia’s piece will be a wonderful surprise – an object of great craft and beauty, that offers a typically generous and original reflection on what Magna Carta means to different people in the digital age.”
Also on the 15 June, the Library will present the results of ‘Magna Carta: My Digital Rights’, a pioneering schools project which asked 11-18 years to write a clause articulating the kind of web they want in the 21st century. The students’ clauses will be published on 8 June, before the wider public is invited to choose their favourite ten clauses to be presented as a ‘Magna Carta for the Digital Age’ for the anniversary date.
Magna Carta (An Embroidery) is on display from 15 May to 24 July at the British Library.
Press images can be downloaded online here.
A full list of contributors and images of the reverse side of the embroidery can be provided on request.
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Notes to Editors
Exhibition opening hours
Monday – Thursday 9.30 – 20.00, Friday 9.30 – 18.00, Saturday 9.30 – 17.00, Sunday and Bank Holidays 11.00 – 17.00
The Library’s full Magna Carta programme can be found on our website.
Magna Carta (An Embroidery) has been commissioned by the Ruskin School of Art at the University of Oxford in partnership with the British Library and in association with the Embroiderers’ Guild, Fine Cell Work, Hand & Lock and the Royal School of Needlework. The commission has been supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and by the John Fell OUP Research Fund.
The artwork is premiering alongside Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, the British Library’s once-in-a-lifetime exhibition exploring the history and significance of the document.
Cornelia Parker is one of the most original and inventive artists working in Britain today. Her wide-ranging practice, mainly in sculpture and installation, touches on the fragility of human experience and is rich with visual and literary allusions. Transforming everyday things into compelling works of art, her projects have included blowing up a shed, steamrolling musical instruments and sending meteorites back into space. These have involved her in collaborations with the most unlikely institutions from the British Army and the Royal Mint to the funeral homes of São Paulo and a crown-of-thorns workshop in Bethlehem. She was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1997, elected a Royal Academician (RA) in 2009 and appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2010. Cornelia Parker is represented by Frith Street Gallery, London.
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