A new light sculpture celebrating the 150th anniversary of the campaign for female suffrage has been revealed in the Houses of Parliament.
The artwork which is called: New Dawn was designed by Parliament’s Artist-in-Residence for Women’s Suffrage, Mary Branson, and will be permanently located above the St. Stephen’s entrance.
New Dawn will be presented to the public exactly 150 years after John Stuart Mill MP brought the first mass petition calling for women’s votes into the House of Commons in 1866. While women did not achieve full equality until 1928, many still believe that the Stuart Mill’s petition was the real beginning of the seventy year campaign involving hundreds of thousands of people throughout Britain.
To develop an understanding of the campaign for suffrage, the artist, Mary Branson, researched by exploring the official archives of Parliament and working closely with academics, MPs, and Peers. It was while looking at the stacked vellum scrolls on which the acts of parliament are recorded, that Mary came up with the idea for the visually striking artwork New Dawn.
Over six metres high, New Dawn is deliberately large so as to reflect “the size of the campaign”, with each unique, hand-blown glass ‘scroll’ symbolizing the many individuals involved in the movement. The glass ‘scrolls’ are mounted on a portcullis structure and permanently fixed above the entrance to St. Stephen’s Hall.
The artwork was commissioned by the Parliamentary Art Collection and cost £124,000. New Dawn is also, the first piece of abstract art commissioned for permanent display in the historic palace.
As a light sculpture, each scroll is individually lit, and the appearance of the artwork will change moment to moment. Operating on a twelve and half hour cycle, linked to the tide of the Thames, which is supposed to encourage onlookers to consider the work more deeply and to reflect on the value of the vote and women’s role in democracy.
Speaking to KCW Today, artist, Mary Branson, said: “After two years of work it’s a wonderful feeling to stand in Westminster Hall and see New Dawn lit up at last.” When asked what she thought about the contemporary state of women’s rights, Mary Branson explained: “I think it’s a really exciting period now, my children’s generation are using social media to join accessible campaigns for women’s rights like Sisters uncut, and Everyday sexism which are both fantastic.” She added, “I think I’m excited, it’s been a long time in the making but it’s also an honour to be a permanent part of the palace.”
Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, said: “On the 150th anniversary of John Stuart Mill’s petition calling for the universal right to vote, New Dawn is a fitting tribute to the champions for liberty of the past, as well as an inspiration for future generations.
Baroness D’Souza, Lord Speaker of the House of Lords, said: “The role that women have played in shaping our democracy, throughout the history of Parliament, has long been a subject close to my heart. Honouring the campaign for women’s rights through art, and in particular through such a spectacular work as this, is something I wholeheartedly support. I hope the beauty of New Dawn, and the values it embodies, are appreciated by visitors to Parliament for years to come.”