Moderate Millicent: First Female Statue in Parliament Square

The PMSA was pleased to see Turner prizewinner, Gillian Wearing’s statue of the suffragist, Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929) unveiled in Parliament Square, London (main image & figs.1&2). Representing the culmination of an impassioned campaign by feminist activist, Caroline Criado-Perez, the statue has huge symbolism as the first of a woman to be erected in the Square, close to the heart of government. Prime Minister, Theresa May, asserted that this new statue, placed amid 12 bronzes celebrating the achievements of men, will stand as a ‘constant reminder’ in the long struggle to gain gender equality. There are 52 photographic etchings on tiles around the statue, depicting 59 women and several men, who campaigned for the vote for women.

Gillian Wearing, Millicent Fawcett, Parliament Square, London
1. Gillian Wearing, Millicent Fawcett (detail), Parliament Square, London (photo: Robert Lisney © PMSA)

While it was accepted that a statue of a woman should be erected to symbolise the fight for women’s suffrage, Millicent Fawcett was a controversial choice, not felt by some to be a sufficiently radical representative. Among other candidates proposed were Mary Wollstonecraft, suffragette leader, Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter, Sylvia. Fawcett was winner of the BBC Radio 4 poll for the most influential woman of the past 100 years, her moderate, non-violent approach to pursuing her goal was probably also a determining factor in her selection. A tireless campaigner for the vote for women, she was first inspired by John Stuart Mills’ call for universal suffrage. The younger sister of Britain’s first female doctor, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Fawcettt was also the co-founder of Newnham College, Cambridge and biographer of social reformer, Josephine Butler. Fawcett lived to see the Representation of the People Act in 1918 granting the vote to women over the age of 30 if they, or their husbands were property owners. The statue was unveiled to commemorate the 100th anniversary of this landmark legislation.

Gillian Wearing, Millicent Fawcett, Parliament Square, London
2. Gillian Wearing, Millicent Fawcett (detail), Parliament Square, London (photo: Robert Lisney © PMSA)

Wearing’s bronze statue represents Fawcett at the age of 50, at the time she became President of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. The words on the banner she holds ‘COURAGE CALLS TO COURAGE EVERYWHERE’ are taken from a speech which she delivered following the death of the suffragette, Emily Davison, who threw herself under a horse at the Epsom Derby of 1913. The statue was cast appropriately by a female bronze caster, Sarah Pirkis, at her foundry at Brandeston in Suffolk, not far from Fawcett’s birthplace of Aldeburgh.

The PMSA is delighted that this statue marks another step in the slow process of redressing the gender imbalance in public sculpture in this country. The Association has been collecting data on public sculpture for nearly 30 years, but this is still incomplete. The PMSA has now recorded approximately two-thirds of all UK public sculpture and our partnership with ArtUK means that we shall have full, comprehensive and dependable data by 2020. In the meantime, we can confirm that the gender gap in public statuary in the UK is vast, with very few women being represented. The greatest number of these being royalty, and Queen Victoria in particular.

A Poignant Fourth Plinth

Michael Rakowitz, The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist
3. Michael Rakowitz, The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist, Fourth Plinth 2018, Trafalgar Square, London (photo: © Gautier DeBlonde)

The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist by Michael Rakowitz is a moving, poignant politicial statement which places public art firmly in the eye of the storm (fig.3). This year’s Fourth Plinth sculpture demonstrates just how relevant and cutting edge public art can be, the power of its message igniting response and provoking debate. The work is part of a project which recreates more than 7,000 archaeological artefacts looted from the Iraq Museum, Baghdad, during the war or destroyed in its aftermath, using recycled packaging from Middle East foodstuffs. Rakowitz’s sculpture is made from 10,500 empty date syrup cans and takes the form of Lamassu, a winged bull and protective deity which guarded the entrance to the Nergal Gate of Ninevah from 700 BC, until it was destroyed by ISIS in 2015. Rakowitz’s bull becomes a symbolic resurrection – a damning criticism and testament to the devastating effects of conflict on world heritage.

Congratulations! Hove Plinth First Sculpture Installed

After 5 years of energetic fundraising and enthusiastic planning, the first Hove Plinth sculpture, Constellation by Jonathan Wright was inaugurated on King’s Esplanade by the Mayor of Brighton and Hove on 21 April (fig.4).

Jonathan Wright, Constellation, Hove Plinth
4. Jonathan Wright, Constellation, 2018, Hove Plinth,
King’s Esplanade, Hove, Sussex
(photo: courtesy of
Hove Civic Society)

The Hove Plinth was inspired by the Fourth Plinth project in Trafalgar Square, London. It is the result of a tremendous community effort which has been spearheaded by Project Director, Karin Janzon and the Hove Civic Society. A new sculpture will be installed on Hove Plinth every 12-18 months.

Constellation is part mechanical model of the solar system, part film camera and part ship’s compass. Celebrating Hove, the sculpture features gilded iconic images relating to the city, past and present. These were carefully selected by local residents in workshops with the sculptor. The sculpture also moves slightly and casts beautiful shadows across the promenade. Jonathan Wright declared Hove seafront ‘a fantastic site for public sculpture’, he added that he was ‘incredibly excited to be the first in a line of artworks for the Hove Plinth.

The next phase will be to seek permanent sites around Hove for the sculptures leaving the plinth in order to build a legacy sculpture trail. What a great project!

Crossrail is coming!

In their exhibition, ‘Art Capital: Art for the Elizabeth Line’, The Whitechapel has been showcasing the exciting new public art commissions by British and international artists. These will be unveiled this year around the central London Elizabeth line stations. Here, the major public art project Crossrail comes to life, as the exhibition features maquettes, sketches and prototypes giving an insight into the works planned. The artist Spencer Finch’s A Cloud Index is set to become London’s largest permanent public art work, a 120 metre long glass cloudscape canopy, with each panel weighing over a tonne – floating ethereally above the platforms at Paddington Station. Other important artists included are Conrad Shawcross, Yayoi Kusama and Simon Periton. Also as part of Crossrail Art Programme, UP Projects are working with artist Sonia Boyce who will be creating a unique new artwork applied to the trackside wall at Silvertown and North Woolwich.

Cathy Wilkes to represent Britain at 2019 Venice Biennale

Glasgow-based Cathy Wilkes has been selected to represent Britain in the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019. She is the third solo female artist to be chosen following Phyllida Barlow in 2017 and Sarah Lucas in 2015. The decision by the British Council comes after her first major solo exhibition at MoMA PS1, New York City, earlier this year. Wilkes has previously exhibited for the Scottish Pavilion (2005) and the International Exhibition of the Biennale (2013).

Hugh Mulholland, Senior Curator at the MAC, Belfast and member of the Selection Committee said of Wilkes ‘central to her practice is a desire to give voice to an inner world, to understand the human condition and to address an emotional deficit at the core of society’.

Cathy Wilkes will be joined by Dr Zoe Whitley, who has been appointed curator of the British Pavilion.

And Eva Rothschild is representing Ireland

Eva Rothschild, Alternative to Power
5. Eva Rothschild, ‘Alternative Power’, 2016-17, New Art
Gallery, Walsall
(photo: courtesy New Art Gallery, Walsall)

Artist, Eva Rothschild has been announced to represent Ireland at the 58th Venice Biennale 2019, alongside Void Gallery Director, Mary Cremin, who will act as curator. Rothschild’s practice is informed by her concern with the intersection between spirituality, power, visual perception and the nature of materiality. She works in a range of media, including steel, leather, resin, plastic and fabric, and her work is often characterised by an engagement with the precarity of geometric forms. In her important 2016-2017 New Art Gallery, Walsall exhibition ‘Alternative to Power’, the artist created a specially commissioned work involving leather (fig.5), a material at the centre of Walsall’s manufacturing industry. Her recent exhibition ‘Iceberg Hits’ at Modern Art showcased her powerful forms and point to an exciting pavilion to come.

Lastly…New talent….

Anna Reading has been announced winner of The Mark Tanner Sculpture Award 2018/2019. Anna, who graduated MFA from the Slade last year, has also been chosen for Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2018.

Main image: The Prime Minister giving a speech at the unveiling of Gillian Wearing’s statue of Millicent Fawcett, Parliament Square, London (photo: Robert Lisney © PMSA)