Courage Calls To Courage Everywhere: The Making of the Millicent Fawcett Statue for Parliament Square by Gillian Wearing
Courage Calls To Courage Everywhere is an exhibition documenting the creation of Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing’s recently-unveiled statue of Suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett, situated in Parliament Square, London. It features a number of artworks 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.
This exhibition – the title of which 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 – 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 full-scale 3D prints from the mould-making process – none of which have ever been shown in public before. The exhibition also includes ephemera from Fawcett’s life and further explores the lives of other important members of the suffrage movement, who are memorialised in the frieze that wraps the plinth of Wearing’s statue.
The sculpture depicts Fawcett at her most influential, in 1907 at the age of sixty, 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.
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.
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”.
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.