Portrait in focus: Work in Progress by Jann Howarth and Liberty Blake

What is the Work in Progress mural and how does it celebrate women and their stories?

Work in Progress (2021–22) is a mural co-created by artists Jann Haworth and Liberty Blake. They worked with individuals and communities from the UK and US who chose the 130 inspiring historical and contemporary women featured in the mural.

In this video, we hear from the artists as they install the artwork in the National Portrait Gallery in London. We see the process of the mural being created. We also hear from some of the people who contributed to the work, who share their perspectives on the women it celebrates.

 

  • The Work in Progress mural is seven panels, and the latest seven panels here are for the National Portrait Gallery as a reflection of works and women that are in the Collection. And it's part of a larger project, which was begun in 2016, and there are now 22 panels that fall under that title.

    To produce this mural, we ran a series of workshops across the UK where participants were invited to select a woman that they felt had made a significant contribution to British history or culture.

    She was an activist during partition between India and Pakistan and she was married to the first High Commissioner of Pakistan in the UK. As a British Pakistani woman myself, I'm always quite fascinated to see historically the sort of overlaps between the two cultures that I'm quite familiar with and that I call home, I guess.

    So, I actually wasn't familiar with her before this project, so through this project it was quite interesting to sort of find out more about the kind of things she did and yeah, how that impacted the women who were in the UK at the time.

    Finding out that she was the first queer Poet Laureate, like seeing that sentence in school was quite a shocking thing to me. I don't know why. And I feel like she's kind of followed me on my journey because then we studied her for A-level, her poetry, and then I think deep down I want to be a poet, but I'm studying psychology, which I guess is the next best thing.

    As a female physicist, there's just a massive lack of female role models, to have someone like Joanna to look up to, to be like, you know, you can do it. And she founded the Grantham Institute for Climate Studies which has like done really, really important work in basically helping save the planet.

    My inspiring woman is Dame Cicely Saunders, who set up the hospice movement in the late 1960s. And what a great movement it is. I worked in a children's hospice before I moved here, so I have lots to thank her for.

    There's no mistakes in art, it's really important. It should be just another language, you know, that is encouraged from when people are really young. It shouldn't be attached to any sort of judgement or grading for that matter.

    It's very different from how I thought it would be.

    So, I'd never done any stencilling before and I didn't really know anything about the process. Actually, I've really enjoyed it.

    It was a bit unnerving doing the cutting. As a process it's been, you know, unusual. But I'm pleased with how it's turned out.

    When we were thinking about how to enhance our representation of women in the Collection, it became apparent that a project like the one established by Haworth and Blake made sense in order to lift women that are both in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, but also not present.

    We had no idea of the space. We hadn't seen the mural in its present position or with the Perspex that's over it. So, it was all a mystery. And then coming in today, it was like an explosion. It was so lovely. It looks amazing.

    The process is very personal. You know that when you are involved with 130 different people, each head is the story of the person who is depicted, but it's also the story of the person who's making it. So many stories woven through this.

Learning objectives

  1. Understand Haworth and Blake’s process, creating art as a collaboration.
  1. Examine how and why the under-representation of women in portraiture is being addressed.

Watch and discuss

  1. If you were asked to choose an inspiring woman who has made a significant contribution to British history or culture, who would you pick?
  1. How does the woman you have chosen connect to your own story?
  1. Why do you think the National Portrait Gallery is trying to enhance the representation of women in the Collection?