A Magna Carta for the common(s) people: Cornelia Parker's Wikipedia Embroidery unveiled at British Library

| 14 May 2015

In Pictures: Cornelia Parker's Wikipedia-inspired 13 metre-long Magna Carta embroidery has been unveiled at the British Library

One of the four surviving 1215 Magna Cartas

an embroidered page of the Wikipedia image of the the Magna Carta
Detail of one of only four surviving1215 Magna Carta documents, held by the British Library. Stitched by Pam Keeling, Embroiderers’ Guild (East Midlands Region)© Photography © British Library
Magna Carta (An Embroidery) was commissioned by the Ruskin School of Art at the University of Oxford in partnership with the British Library in this 800th anniversary year.

The 'Australian Magna Carta'

an embroidery of a Magna Carta as pictured on Wikipedia
1297 Magna Carta owned by the Australian Government, stitched by Cathy Johnson, Embroiderers’ Guild (North West Region)© Photograph courtesy of the British Library
The artwork depicts the Magna Carta Wikipedia page as it appeared last year on the document’s 799th birthday.

Pope Innocent III

an embroidery of a picture of a pope as pictured on Wikipedia
Pope Innocent III stitched by Anthea Godfrey, Embroiderers’ Guild (Eastern Region)© Photograph British Library
The detailed Creative Commons pictures, emblems and logos that punctuate the text have been fashioned by highly accomplished members of the Embroiderers' Guild alongside embroiderers from the Royal School of Needlework.


an embroidered page from Wikipedia showing a photo of Runnymede
Magna Carta Memorial at Runnymede, stitched by Jill Hazell, Embroiderers’ Guild (South West Region)© Photograph British Library
“I wanted to create a portrait of our age”, says Parker. “I love the idea of taking something digital and making it into an analogue, hand-crafted thing”.

Henry III's Magna Carta

an embroidery of a page from Wikipedia featuring a large fragile manuscript with a seal
1225 Magna Carta issued by Henry III, stitched by Ann Carrick and Elaine Dunn, Embroiderers’ Guild (North East Region)© Photograph British Library
Roy Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, describes the new work as "an object of great craft and beauty that offers a typically generous and original reflection on what Magna Carta means to different people in the digital age.”

Commons in cotton

an embroidery based on a Wikimedia credits
Wikimedia, Wikiquote, Wikisource and MediaWiki panels stitched by Lorna Pound, Embroiderers’ Guild (West Midlands Region)© Photo British Library
"It’s a unique project, and one of the least expected things to come out of Wikipedia," says Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. "I commend the ethos of the work which echoes Wikipedia’s guiding principles of generosity, thoughtfulness, passion and tolerance."

King John signs

an embroidered image of a king signing a document next to knights and monks
King John signs Magna Carta (1902) stitched by Janet Payne, Embroiderers’ Guild (Eastern Region)© Photo British Library
“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," says Parker.

Edward Coke

an embroidered picture of a man in beard and ruffle
Jurist Edward Coke stitched Shirley Smith and Zita Szabo, Embroiderers’ Guild (Yorkshire and The Humber Region and Scottish Region)© Photograph British Library
"Like a Wikipedia article, this embroidery is multi-authored and full of many different voices,” says the artist. The words have been stitched by over 200 carefully selected individuals, many of whom have a connection to civil liberties and the law.

The embroiderers

a photo of a bloke in an Everlast vest and tattoos working on an embroidery
Chris, a member of Fine Cell Work, at work on Magna Carta (An Embroidery) by Cornelia Parker© Photograph by Joseph Turp
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. Embroidery Guilds tackled many of the images.

Cornelia and Jarvis

a photo of two people in a room looking a large flat display case
Jarvis Cocker and Cornelia Parker find his phrase 'Common People' on Magna Carta (an embroidery)© Photo courtesy British Library
Contributors were chosen by Parker to embroider words or phrases significant to them, including Baroness Doreen Lawrence (‘justice’, ‘denial’ and ‘delay’), Edward Snowden (‘liberty’) and Jarvis Cocker (‘Common People’).

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

More on Magna Carta800:

Best-preserved Magna Carta goes on show at Salisbury Cathedral for Magna Carta 800

Magna Carta: From the King's teeth to Horrible Histories at the British Library

Society of Antiquaries of London announces historic exhibition for Magna Carta 800
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