The artist’s legacy is now cast in bronze thanks to her ground­break­ing suf­frag­ist statue in Par­lia­ment Square. By Ly­dia Slater

Harper's Bazaar (UK) - - Gillian Wearing - Pho­to­graph by RICHARD PHIBBS Styled by CHAR­LOTTE DAVEY

It was not un­til she was in her twen­ties that Gil­lian Wear­ing be­gan to think of her­self as a fem­i­nist. ‘I don’t re­ally re­mem­ber those kinds of di­a­logues when I was younger – though I do re­call my fa­ther say­ing that if boys didn’t do do­mes­tic work, girls shouldn’t have to ei­ther,’ she says of her Birm­ing­ham child­hood. ‘When I ap­plied to Gold­smiths, I re­mem­ber talk­ing about fem­i­nism and be­ing a fem­i­nist artist in my in­ter­view; the irony was, I had noth­ing to back up what I was talk­ing about.’

To­day, of course, Wear­ing’s name is syn­ony­mous with one of Bri­tain’s most cel­e­brated works of fem­i­nist art: her exquisitely de­tailed bronze statue of the suf­frag­ist Mil­li­cent Fawcett, which stands proudly op­po­site the House of Com­mons in Par­lia­ment Square, hold­ing up a protest ban­ner. It was erected ear­lier this year to com­mem­o­rate the cen­te­nary of the grant­ing of women’s par­tial suf­frage; around its base, Wear­ing etched the im­ages of 59 of Fawcett’s (mainly fe­male) fel­low suf­frage cam­paign­ers, as a way of evening up the gen­der bal­ance in the square, where pre­vi­ously not only every statue rep­re­sented a man, but all their cre­ators were male too.

‘Half the pop­u­la­tion not be­ing rep­re­sented at all is quite ex­tra­or­di­nary,’ says Wear­ing. ‘Over many years, we see change, and it’s good, but you do get blind spots. Now it’s be­come a point of con­ver­sa­tion.’ Open­ing eyes, start­ing con­ver­sa­tions – these have been the aims of the Turner Prize-win­ning artist from the start of her ca­reer. Whether she is per­suad­ing dis­guised strangers to con­fess their deep­est se­crets on screen, danc­ing wildly and silently in a shop­ping cen­tre, don­ning care­fully crafted sil­i­cone masks of her fam­ily to recre­ate old snap­shots, or hav­ing her own image dig­i­tally aged by foren­sic artists, the aim of her bril­liant and of­ten un­set­tling work is al­ways to ex­plore and un­der­stand our iden­tity, our du­al­ity, our hu­man­ity.

‘No one else was pre­pared to go as far as she did; a lot of other peo­ple would have set­tled for less,’ she says ad­mir­ingly of Fawcett’s life­time of protest and cham­pi­onship – and you could say ex­actly the same of Wear­ing her­self.

Gil­lian Wear­ing be­side her statue of Mil­li­cent Fawcett in Par­lia­ment Square, wear­ing jacquard skirt, £1,260, Er­dem. Mix-blend shirt, £215, Chloé. Suede shoes, £202, Chie Mi­hara. Tights, £27, Wol­ford

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