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Our Emmeline – my statue by Hazel Reeves

10 December 2018

Image of Final clay of Our Emmeline by Hazel Reeves © Hazel Reeves

On Friday 14 December 2018 a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst will be unveiled in her home city of Manchester.  Designed by sculptor Hazel Reeves, this will be the highlight of a campaign to celebrate the significant contribution of women to the city and will take place on the day that exactly 100 years ago the first women voted in a UK general election for the first time.

We asked Hazel to tell us about the commission in her own words.

Our Emmeline – my statue by Hazel Reeves

‘The 14 December 2018.  Up until now, this date has existed in my head as a looming deadline.  It’s the date of the unveiling of ‘Rise up, women’ – affectionately known as ‘Our Emmeline’ – my statue celebrating the radical Mancunian Emmeline Pankhurst.  But as we draw closer, and the statue is in its final stages of readiness, the date has become more than just a deadline.  The significance of the date has come to the fore.  It will be exactly one hundred years since Emmeline proudly posted her ballot paper into the box, in a general election, one of the first women to do so.

We take it for granted these days.  But it was only 100 years since the first women – around 8.4 million – had any say in their lives and 90 years since all women were able to vote in Britain.  Both my grandmas had to wait until 1928.  This is why I care about the centenary.  It is a reminder of the many lost years, before women were considered equal human beings, citizens in their own right.  It is a reminder that change often comes at a cost, in this case borne by the suffragettes and suffragists. And it’s a reminder that change is possible, but we must keep pushing and be ever vigilant.

When I heard about the Emmeline Pankhurst Statue Campaign commission in 2016, I was so excited.  It would be perfect.  It would combine two of my passions.  Before becoming a sculptor, I had worked for many years promoting women’s rights and gender equality internationally.  This makes me rather unique.  And this commission would give me an opportunity to express, without words, what this centenary means to me, what Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragettes mean to me, and what the radical women of Manchester, past and present, mean to me.

My statue design is simple.  The suffragettes are on the streets, ringing bells, summoning people from their homes, offices and factories.  Someone grabs a kitchen chair as a makeshift rostrum.  The five foot Emmeline climbs atop.  Spurred on by the injustice women face, she addresses the noisy crowds, urging women to rise up and demand the vote.  Emmeline is portrayed as the dynamic, courageous, determined, dignified and elegant activist she was.

Winning the commission, and the public vote for my design, was exciting beyond words.  But I immediately felt the weighty responsibility to create a statue that the people of Manchester, and particularly the strong women of Manchester, would be proud of.  I was moved by how people embraced my design.  They ‘got’ what I was trying to say.  In fact, they often articulated it better than me.  And they had sensed my deep political commitment.

I must say it has been a huge privilege to sculpt Emmeline.  And it has been a real labour of love.  Why do I admire her so?  She had the ability to inspire women of all classes to take to the streets, to claim what should be rightfully theirs.  She had enormous courage and tenacity even in the face of violent resistance.  And she brought about new forms of activism and pioneered concerns that later became central to feminist thinking.  One day I was walking by the lake near my studio, when the reality hit home – I’m sculpting Emmeline Pankhurst, yes THE Emmeline Pankhurst.

It has also been a real honour to work with the Emmeline Pankhurst Statue Campaign.  We have been on a journey together, learning lots, laughing lots.  I am so grateful to Councillor Andrew Simcock, the chair of the campaign, for his vision and for putting his trust in me.  And for Helen Pankhurst, Emmeline’s great granddaughter, who has been our modern day inspiration, and a wonderful and supportive person to boot.  It has been warming to see how the project has proactively connected with the public and forged links with other key players in Manchester, like the Pankhurst Centre and People’s History Museum.

Sculpting Emmeline also gave me the opportunity to work side by side with two amazing women, who also felt the responsibility of getting it right, getting it done: Sarah Jenkins, my model for Emmeline, and all round fabulous feminist; and my artist sister, Sandra Reeves, ever ready with artistic or technical support.  They kept me going.  I couldn’t have done it without them. Hats off.

And how otherwise would I have met – and hung out with – so many amazing Manchester women.  What a privilege.  Some even came to visit me in the studio, giving me a real boost.  I was joined by women councillors from across Manchester and women from Wythenshawe Safespots, the user-led domestic abuse organisation.  These modern day Emmelines are working tirelessly to realise women’s rights and make gender equality a reality.  It’s these women, and the next generation of women activists, I will dedicate the statue to.

It’s Helen Pankhurst’s vision that the unveiling should be an occasion that sees people gather from across Greater Manchester to march and sing on their way to meet Our Emmeline. Marchers will gather near the Pankhurst Centre (at 10.30am) and the People’s History Museum is just a short walk to the starting point at Great Northern Square at 11.15am, and then converge collectively at St Peter’s Square ready for some rousing singing led by the Manchester Community Choir.  The unveiling proceedings will commence at 12 noon.  Come join us on this most significant of days.

But it is on the next day, Saturday 15 December, that Our Emmeline starts her work, inspiring current and future generations of women to rise up and use their vote, use their voice and champion the rights of those left behind.’

Guest blogs are not curated by PHM but feature voices on topics relevant to the museum’s collection.  Guest blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of PHM.

PHM is celebrating the unveiling of Our Emmeline on Friday 14 December.  Pop in to the museum at the earlier opening time of 9.30am; explore our exhibition Represent! Voices 100 Years On, and visit The Left Bank cafe bar where suffragette specials will be served throughout the day, with breakfast available from 8.00am.  Pick up your suffragette sash, rosette and poncho in the suffragette colours of purple, green and white from the museum, ahead of the march starting from Great Northern Square at 11.15am to St Peter’s Square for the statue unveiling.

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