Cornelia Parker’s Magna Carta Turns Shared Content Into A Physical Object

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, says: “Cornelia Parker’s embroidered Magna Carta takes shared onscreen content back into the world of physical things. It’s a unique project, and one of the least expected things to come out of Wikipedia! I commend the ethos of the work which echoes Wikipedia’s guiding principles of generosity, thoughtfulness, passion and tolerance. As someone who edits Wikipedia daily, to witness this huge replica of one page, frozen in time and made through collective endeavour, is humbling and should encourage everyone who sees it to reflect on collaboration, justice, fairness and equality.”

An embroidery by the British artist Cornelia Parker depicting the Magna Carta Wikipedia page as it appeared last year on the document’s 799th birthday, has been unveiled at the British Library. The artwork was stitched by over 200 carefully selected individuals, many of whom have a connection to civil liberties and the law including almost 40 prisoners.

Measuring 13 metre-long, each stitching words or phrases significant to them, the list ranges from director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti (stitching ‘Charter of Liberties’) and Baroness Doreen Lawrence (‘justice’, ‘denial’ and ‘delay’) to Lord Igor Judge and Lady Judith Judge (‘Habeas Corpus’ – a phrase rejected by one of the many prisoners stitching the embroidery), and from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales (‘user’s manual’) and Edward Snowden (‘liberty’) to Jarvis Cocker (‘Common People’). 

“I wanted to create a portrait of our age”, says Cornelia Parker. “All these people have their own opinions about democracy today and I thought carefully about the words they should stitch. For instance, Baroness Warsi, Eliza Manningham-Buller, Julian Assange and numerous prisoners have all stitched the word ‘freedom’, but all have different relationships to it.”

The bulk of the text of the Wikipedia page has been embroidered in various prisons by inmates under the supervision of Fine Cell Work, a social enterprise that trains prisoners in paid, skilled, creative needlework. The detailed pictures, emblems and logos that punctuate the text have been fashioned by highly accomplished members of the Embroiderers’ Guild, a national charity that promotes and encourages the art of embroidery and related crafts, alongside embroiderers from the Royal School of Needlework and the leading embroidery company Hand & Lock. 

“I love the idea of taking something digital and making it into an analogue, hand-crafted thing”, says Cornelia. “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. Like a Wikipedia article, this embroidery is multi-authored and full of many different voices. ” 

The Wikipedia article regularly attracts more than 150,000 page views each month and is constantly being amended by users of the website as the debate about Magna Carta and its legacy ebbs and flows.

‘This is a snapshot of where the debate is right now,’ says Parker. ‘Echoing the communal activity that resulted in the Bayeux Tapestry, but on this occasion placing more emphasis on the word rather than the image, I wanted to create an artwork that is a contemporary interpretation of Magna Carta.’

Parker is one of Britain’s most celebrated artists, she works in a variety of media and is well known for her sculpture and installation in which she transforms ordinary objects into compelling works of art. She was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1997, elected a Royal Academician in 2009 and appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2010.


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