May 15, 2015
Hand-stitched Magna Carta Wikipedia page explores the fabric of democracy
The Guardian. Thursday 14th May, 2015.
Click here to read the article as it appeared on the site.
Prisoners, writers, politicians, musicians, campaigners – and embroiderers – help craft a digital-to-analogue work of art examining freedom in the modern age.
Jarvis Cocker began stitching the words “common people” when he was on a train; the human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith got his needle and thread out for “law of the land” while in Guantánamo Bay; and Julian Assange had little choice but to embroider the word “freedom” from his room in the Ecuadorian embassy.
All three are contributors to a work of art by Cornelia Parker that goes on display at the British Library on Friday: a 13-metre-long embroidery celebrating the Magna Carta by copying its Wikipedia article.
More than 200 people – including barons, lawyers, politicians, prisoners, writers and celebrities – contributed by stitching words and phrases that were significant to them.
“I wanted to create a portrait of our age,” said Parker. “All these people have opinions about democracy and I thought carefully about the words they should stitch.”
Parker got the idea quite straightforwardly after going online to Google “Magna Carta”. “The first thing you get is the Wikipedia page and I just got thinking that it’s an embroidery of history, really. The page has been made by lots of different people and it is quite subjective … it is a people’s encyclopaedia. I thought perhaps we should embroider the page.”
Parker had the page’s text printed lightly on to fabric which was then cut up into more than 80 sections. They were then sent off to 36 prisoners in 13 jails who embroidered the bulk of the text. Nearly 200 gaps were left for other contributors to do their bit.
Parker said she sent or gave willing participants the fabric section, a needle and thread, and a choice of three stitches to use: back, cable and stem.
Among those rising to the challenge were Baroness Doreen Lawrence, who stitched the words “justice”, “denial” and “delay” in line seven of the tapestry; the Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales (“user’s manual”); the former Guantánamo inmate Moazzam Begg (“held without charge”); and Paddy Hill, one of the men wrongly convicted of the Birmingham bombing (“Freeman”).
The detailed, and far trickier, pictures on the Wikipedia page, such as a mural of Pope Innocent III and 13th-century documents from the British Library collection, were tackled by members of the Embroiderers’ Guild, a national charity that promotes the craft.
Parker said she loves the idea of turning something digital into an analogue hand-crafted object.
“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.”
Magna Carta (An Embroidery) was commissioned by the Ruskin School of Art at Oxford University in partnership with the British Library and is part of a wider programme of events marking the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.
Parker said she was delighted with the end product and the contributions.
Some of the stitching is clearly better than others and some of the contributors admitted needing assistance – former home secretary Kenneth Clarke, for example, enlisted the help of his wife, Gillian.
There is even blood, supplied by the Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger. A metaphor for the lengths this organisation will go to in pursuit of truth and justice? “He pricked his finger,” said Parker.