It inspired leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Thomas Jefferson over the course of hundreds of years, and its legacy resonates throughout the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the United States Declaration of Independence. And yet the physical dimensions of the Magna Carta offer a surprising contrast to the breadth and depth of its impact: one of the world's most important symbols of liberty, it fits on a 38 cm x 51 cm parchment.
Magna Carta (An Embroidery), however, is nearly 13 metres long. Created to celebrate the document's 800th birthday, British artist Cornelia Parker's tapestry features the handiwork of 200 contributors, including activists, politicians, lawyers, musicians, and Ms. Parker herself, as well as nearly 40 prisoners, who stitched the bulk of the text.
It is, in a shift from analogue to digital and back again, a near-perfect replica of the Wikipedia entry on the Magna Carta.
"I wanted the embroidery to raise questions about where we are now with the principles laid down in the Magna Carta, and about the challenges to all kinds of freedoms that we face in the digital age," explained Ms. Parker.
With the aim of creating a "portrait of our age," she carefully selected the words for her more notable contributors to stitch: each individual embroidered a word or phrase that was significant to them (embroiderers handled the illustrations and other tricky bits). Edward Snowden tried his hand at "liberty", and "user's manual" came from Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder. Moazzam Begg added "held without charge" to reflect his time as a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay. The editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, provided "contemporary political relevance" as well as a few small blood stains after an unfortunate run-in with his needle. Philip Pullman got "Oxford". Ms. Parker gave "common people" to Jarvis Cocker, and chose "prerogative" for herself. Julian Assange and a former Director General of MI5 were not the only ones to stitch "freedom"--a host of prisoners also added it to the final piece.
Magna Carta (An Embroidery) is on display at the British Library until July 24th.