A 13 metre-long embroidery by British artist Cornelia Parker is now on display 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.
Among the contributors, each stitching words or phrases significant to them, are Director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti (stitching ‘Charter of Liberties’), Baroness Doreen Lawrence (‘justice’, ‘denial’ and ‘delay’), Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales (‘user’s manual’), Edward Snowden (‘liberty’) and 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’.
Magna Carta (An Embroidery) was commissioned by the Ruskin School of Art at the University of Oxford in partnership with the British 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).
On 15 June, exactly 800 years after Magna Carta was sealed, Cornelia Parker, Jimmy Wales and Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library will be in conversation at the Library exploring the ideas behind the artwork.
Magna Carta (An Embroidery) is on display from 15 May to 24 July at the British Library.
Cornelia Parker is Visiting Professor of Fine Art to The Falmouth School of Art at Falmouth University.