Work in Progress
Work in Progress (2021-2) is a major commission co-created by pop artist and soft sculpture pioneer Jann Haworth (b.1942) and collage artist Liberty Blake (b.1968) as part of the National Portrait Gallery’s Reframing Narratives: Women in Portraiture project, with kind support from the CHANEL Culture Fund. The 8 x 28 feet, seven-panel mural, produced in collaboration with individuals and communities from across the UK and in the US, showcases 130 inspiring historical and contemporary women, both prominent and lesser known, who have made significant contributions to British history and culture in varying fields of endeavour and at different times.
Inspired by Haworth and Blake’s ongoing international mural project of the same name, begun in 2016 in Salt Lake City in Utah where they are both based, this new work looks to the depths of the National Portrait Gallery’s vast Collection and beyond to shine a light on the breadth of frequently overlooked or marginalised female achievement. Each woman depicted bears their own story from the ancient warrior queen Boudicca to the computer pioneer Ada Lovelace, and wheelchair racer Tanni Grey-Thompson, Baroness Grey-Thompson, among many others. Blake reflects on the impact of bringing together these diverse women:
The idea that Elizabeth I might stand shoulder to shoulder with Lady Caroline Norton in a crowd is amusing and invokes curiosity, and helps people learn more about the contributions of some of the women who have played a part in shaping the world that we live in.
While this pantheon of women includes 26 trailblazers previously unrepresented in the Gallery’s Collection, such as the Pre-Raphaelite artists’ model Fanny Eaton, vocal suffragette Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, painter and writer Ling Shuhua, footballer Lily Parr, and nurse Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, it also recognises that many more exist who are equally deserving of wider attention and recognition. As Haworth indicates:
How can you celebrate the accomplishments made by women when you know that the more that you look the more that you discover and that you will have to answer this question: Why isn't 'X' on this mural?
Both the mural’s title and the silhouette of an unnamed woman among the figures (panel 7, figure 119) attempt to address this question and acknowledge the unending task of foregrounding female achievement.
How was it made?
Each of the portraits was produced during a series of workshops where the artists guided participants through the process of stencilling portraits using acrylic paints and paper, based on existing depictions of their chosen subjects. Haworth always intended the process to be one that was accessible and inclusive, in that it ‘could be taught to non-artists to enable them to do perhaps the most difficult of art tasks: The Portrait’.
Following a trial workshop, further workshops were held during the National Portrait Gallery’s closure for its Inspiring People refurbishment project, with the National Portrait Gallery’s Youth Forum; and at The Courtauld Institute of Art, London; Murray Edwards College, Cambridge; with members of the Community Programme at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester; and members of the Pathways to Wellbeing programme at The Holburne Museum, Bath. An additional fourteen professional artists from the UK and US were also invited to create full-length portraits for the mural’s front row. When completed, Blake assembled and collaged the portraits on to the multiple panels to create the finished mural, which forms a vibrant, visual celebration of female achievement that encompasses the diverse styles and aesthetic choices of its varied contributors.
Who were the contributors?
Collaboration is key to the Work in Progress mural. Haworth points out that ‘the sheer size means you have to have help’ and that ‘‘Who Dunnit?’ is at the centre point of the National Portrait Gallery’s Work in Progress mural, both literally and thematically. You will see it ‘in print’ on Agatha Christie’s newspaper by David Atkinson’ (panel 4, figure 74).
To find out more about the women represented and the participants who chose to stencil them, along with their reasons for doing so, click on the options below:
Work in Progress is on display in our History Makers Now gallery (Room 33), on Floor 0.
Kindly supported by: