Cornelia Parker's Magna Carta (An Embroidery) now on display at the Weston Library

11 November 2015

A giant embroidered copy of the entire Wikipedia article about Magna Carta is now on display in the Bodleian's Weston Library to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the great charter.

The 13-metre long embroidery is a major new artwork by acclaimed British artist Cornelia Parker and was carefully hand-stitched by more than 200 people ranging from MPs and judges to activists and prisoners, and including people such as musician Jarvis Cocker and privacy activist Edward Snowden.

Members of the public can see Magna Carta (An Embroidery) on display in Blackwell Hall in the Weston Library until 3 January 2016.

Magna Carta was sealed by King John at Runnymede on 15 June 1215, following close and difficult negotiations with his baronial opposition. The charter established that the king was subject to the law and that were there significant limits to his power. Magna Carta was reissued on multiple occasions in the thirteenth century, and the Bodleian Library holds four of the 17 surviving engrossments of Magna Carta from before 1300.

Today, this landmark document has come to be viewed as the great charter of civil liberties and it retains enormous symbolic power as an ancient defence of individual rights and freedoms. The Wikipedia article on Magna Carta regularly attracts more than 150,000 page views each month and is constantly being amended as the debate about the document and its legacy ebbs and flows.

'Magna Carta (An Embroidery) is a snapshot of where the debate is right now,' Parker said. '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 captured the Wikipedia article on Magna Carta on 15 June 2014 and output it as a printed pattern on fabric. The fabric was then divided into 87 sections and sent across the UK to be stitched by more than 200 people, who were invited to stitch words or phrases that were significant to them. Dr Martin Kauffmann, Head of Early and Rare Collections at the Bodleian Libraries, hand-stitched the text of the Wikipedia article that mentions the Bodleian since he is responsible for preserving and curating the Libraries' four Magna Carta engrossments.

'I'm delighted to be exhibiting my Magna Carta (An Embroidery) at the Bodleian,' Parker said. 'To have the work presented in an institution which itself has four original engrossments of Magna Carta is a huge privilege. The work was commissioned by the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford so in many ways this exhibition is also a homecoming for the piece.'

Magna Carta (An Embroidery) was commissioned by the Ruskin School of Art at the University of Oxford in partnership with the British Library and in association with the Embroiderers' Guild, Fine Cell Work, Hand & Lock and the Royal School of Needlework. The commission has been supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and by the John Fell OUP Research Fund. 

It was previously on display last summer at the British Library, and will continue its tour of the UK in 2016-17, thanks to the support of the Magna Carta Trust 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee.

The display of Magna Carta (An Embroidery) in the Weston Library is accompanied by a short documentary film about the artwork that will be shown on the large digital screen in Blackwell Hall. There will also be a talk given by Cornelia Parker on 4 December.

One of the Bodleian's Magna Carta engrossments, dating from 1217, will be on display in Blackwell Hall in the Weston Library on 19 November.

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