We’re delighted to announce that Gillian Wearing’s edition, Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere, will be on display for the first time at TJ Boulting gallery (59 Riding House Street, London, W1W 7EG) as part of their exhibition Subversive Stitch, February 14th to March 23rd.
Celebrating the Collective
On the anniversary of Gillian Wearing’s unveiling of the first statue of a woman, by a woman, in Parliament Square, Emily Watkins caught up with the artist to discuss her latest edition and first ever textile work – an embroidered limited edition handkerchief.
Suffragists and Suffragettes had a long history of embroidering the signatures they couldn’t apply to an electoral roll to pieces of fabric – table cloths, banners and handkerchiefs like this one – via the traditionally female medium of needlework. The edition aspires to honour that tradition of craft, and amplify the names of activists often forgotten whilst celebrating recent triumphs in the battle for gender equality.
The edition recognizes the courage not just of the Suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett, depicted in Parliament Square brandishing a placard proclaiming ‘Courage calls to courage everywhere’, but also the tireless campaigning of leading suffragist and suffragette activists, many of whom are emblazoned on the statue’s plinth.
Inspired by these dedicated men and women, Gillian Wearing worked alongside Plinth and the Mayor of London’s team to produce an edition of 1,000 embroidered handkerchiefs, each featuring signatures from 50 of these historic figures alongside those of Caroline Criado Perez and Gillian Wearing herself.
It is a re-working of a tradition and what I love about it is that it is also aesthetic.
Have you ever worked with textiles and/or embroidery before? How did you find the materials leant themselves to the artistic process?
No, this is a first. It’s very exciting and of course relates to how Suffragists and Suffragettes created objects, banners, tablecloths with messages and signatures in order to give more visibility to the cause. There is something very delicate and also indelible about this process. It is a re-working of a tradition and what I love about it is that it is also aesthetic.
Your signature sits beside 48 of the activists who fought for women’s suffrage, 100 years ago, and Caroline’s too. The 'artist’s signature' has been such an important idea for centuries; how do you understand your name on the edition? Is it as artist, petition signatory or both?
It is to give solidarity to those that fought 100 years ago for the right for women to vote. They did all the hard work, I am there really in a form of a thank you and also to continue the visibility of what they achieved.
I think it is important to realise that whenever there is any significant and positive change in the world, people normally have to protest for that, it’s rarely just handed out as if it were a natural part of the evolution of society.
Is the editioned handkerchief a companion piece to your Parliament Square sculpture, Millicent Fawcett? They share the message ‘courage calls to courage everywhere’, and the signatures on the former are drawn from the activists pictured around the plinth of the latter…
Yes the signatures are from the activists whose names are on the plinth. They all contributed to the success of women getting the vote. I think it is important to realise that whenever there is any significant and positive change in the world, people normally have to protest for that, it’s rarely just handed out as if it were a natural part of the evolution of society. Thats why I wanted engraved etchings going around the plinth to show that even though Millicent Fawcett was the most important person at that point who got the vote through, she couldn’t have done it alone. We need to celebrate the collective.