Statue of suffragist to break male monopoly on Parliament Square

Artist Gillian Wearing will be first woman to create a statue for the public space with her monument to Millicent Fawcett

Gillian Wearing is to become the first woman to create a statue for Parliament Square after being commissioned to make one of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced that Wearing had been chosen for what will be a “milestone project” to get a woman represented in the UK’s most important public space for recognising past national achievements.

The prime minister, Theresa May, gave her endorsement to a Fawcett statue earlier this month, backing a campaign launched in 2016 by the activist Caroline Criado-Perez.

Khan said: “It’s simply not right that nearly a century after women’s suffrage, Parliament Square is still a male-only zone, and I’m thrilled that this is soon to change thanks to Caroline’s inspired campaign.

“This will be an historic moment for Parliament Square, and it’s fitting that the statue will be created by a world-class artist of Gillian’s calibre.”

Gillian Wearing’s A Real Birmingham Family.
Gillian Wearing’s A Real Birmingham Family. Photograph: Andrew Fox

Wearing, a Turner prize winner, created the £100,000 bronze statue of an ordinary family that was unveiled in Birmingham’s Centenary Square in 2014.

She said she was thrilled to be creating a monument to Fawcett. “Millicent Fawcett was an incredible woman and by honouring her in Parliament Square I believe she will continue to inspire generations to come,” she said.

Fawcett led the constitutional campaign for women’s suffrage, as president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies from 1897 to 1919.

She will join the nine statues of men on the green of the square: Sir Robert Peel, Benjamin Disraeli, the Earl of Derby, Lord Palmerston, Field Marshal Jan Smuts, Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, Nelson Mandela and the most recent, Mahatma Gandhi, who was added in 2014.

Criado-Perez launched the campaign with a petition which was signed by almost 85,000 people. She said: “Women make up more than half the population – but from looking at our public spaces, you would never know that. Just 2.7% of British statues are of named women, and even these are mostly royals.”

She said it was also “time to have our first statue by a female sculptor in Parliament Square and I’m thrilled that Gillian Wearing is going to be producing this historic artwork.”

Wearing was chosen by a committee which included gallery directors, curators, cultural leaders and campaigners and was chaired by London’s deputy mayor for culture and creative industries, Justine Simons

The statue will be unveiled in 2018 to coincide with wider centenary celebrations of women’s suffrage.

• This article was amended on 18 April 2017. An earlier version said Millicent Fawcett “led the constitutional campaign for women’s suffrage between 1866 and 1928”. To clarify: the campaign ran between 1866, the year of a mass petition to parliament, and 1928, when an equal franchise law was passed.

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Mark Brown Arts correspondent

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