Guest post: "We want to celebrate women's suffrage - and show how far we've got to go"
Parliament's new artwork recognises the contributions of thousands to the 70-year-long fight for women's votes, says Caroline Nokes MP
Chair of the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art
Posted on: Wed 08-Jun-16 10:05:33
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Westminster Hall is the oldest part of Parliament, and one of the oldest buildings in the United Kingdom. Its walls have witnessed the coronation of Richard the Lionheart, the trial of Charles I, the Blitz, and speeches from Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi. Last night, I had the honour of unveiling Mary Branson's New Dawn, a permanent addition to this historic space.
The Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art commissioned this artwork to celebrate the campaign for women's votes. The Committee was established in 1956 to manage and advise on the care of the Parliamentary Art Collection. The majority of the artworks in the Collection date from before 1900, and it's no secret that there aren't as many female faces as we would like to see.
As Chair of the Committee, I am committed to increasing the representation of women in the Collection – because the Collection is not just a set of objects. Rather, the artworks in the Collection tell a story about what Parliament is to the members of the public who visit the building every day or browse its art galleries online. And one crucial part of that story is the 70-year-long campaign, contributed to by hundreds of thousands of people, each generation passing the baton to the next, for women's votes. Many families today will have grandmothers or great grandmothers who took part in the campaign - it is incredible to think that women have not yet had the vote for 100 years.
Almost 100 years after women received the vote, we are still under-represented in our democracy. This art work is not only a celebration of the women who did so much to make the UK a true democracy, but also a reminder of how much work is still to be done.
Since this was a mass movement, made up of thousands of women (and men), from all corners of the UK, who lobbied Parliament and signed petitions, carried banners and chained themselves to our statues, we wanted an artwork that would celebrate all their contributions, and Mary Branson's New Dawn does just that.
New Dawn manages the tricky task of being a superb work of contemporary art which still beautifully reflects and echoes the visual language of Parliament itself. The 168 lit glass scrolls that make up New Dawn's rising sun recall the Original Act Room at the Parliamentary Archives, and they are mounted on a metal portcullis, the official symbol and principal emblem of Parliament.
But it is New Dawn's qualities as a living artwork that I think are most important. The lighting levels of the glass scrolls will ebb and flow in tandem with the tidal Thames, representing the still-rising tide of change. While the 2015 election saw a record number of women returned (191), there are still more men sitting in the House of Commons today than there have ever been women elected.
Almost 100 years after women received the vote, we are still under-represented in our own democracy. New Dawn is not only a celebration of the brave women who did so much to make the UK a true democracy, but also a reminder of how much work is still to be done to keep Parliament from being, or being seen as, a boys' club.
Image: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
By Caroline Nokes, MP