Supreme Court’s first artwork to feature women in law commissioned to celebrate centenary

Turner Prize nominated artist Catherine Yass has been commissioned to create the first Supreme Court artwork to feature women from the legal profession.

The artwork will commemorate the centenary of the 1919 Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act which paved the way for women to practice law. It will be displayed in courtroom two where the first majority-female court – three out of five justices – sat in October 2018.

Commissioned by The First 100 Years project, it is due to be unveiled in December and will feature some female legal pioneers.

The artist was chosen through a competitive process and was judged by a panel that included Baroness Hale, President of the Supreme Court, Mark Ormerod, chief executive of the Supreme Court and Dana Denis-Smith and David Standish from Spark 21, the charity behind the First 100 Years project. The Contemporary Art Societyacted as advisers to the judging panel.

Catherine Yass trained at the Slade School of Art in London, the Hochschüle der Künst in Berlin and Goldsmiths College, London. She is known for her films and brightly coloured photographs. Her stills present an image which is usually a combination of the positive and negative.

In 2002, she was shortlisted for The Turner Prize and her work features in a number of major collections worldwide including the Tate, the Arts Council of England, The Jewish Museum in New York, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the National Museum of Women in the Arts Collection, Washington DC.

She says: “It is a privilege to have the opportunity of deepening my understanding of how the law shapes and affects our lives, and how it enshrines the fundamental rights of society. Women have traditionally been seen and treated as part of the background, so now they can make it a positive attribute, giving them a greater understanding and sensitivity to context and working in conjunction with others. My hope is that this piece of work will be inspirational to visitors, those involved in the court cases and the administrative staff.”

Lady Hale, President of the Supreme Court, said: “I am thrilled that Spark21 has raised funds for a piece of art for the Supreme Court that will commemorate the achievement of women in the law and provide inspiration for the future.  We were all very impressed by Catherine Yass’s proposal and I am very much looking forward to seeing her work hanging in our modern and stylish courtroom two.”

Fabienne Nicholas, Head of Consultancy at the Contemporary Art Society said: “We are delighted to be working with Spark21 and the Supreme Court to realise such an important artwork. Recognising the contribution women have made to the UK legal sector since their admittance to the profession 100 years ago is critical to sharing this history with the Court’s many visitors. Art has always been used to tell stories, and appointing Catherine Yass, one of the UK’s foremost contemporary artists, to deliver her vision for courtroom two will ensure this is a lasting, visionary work for generations to come.”

Dana Denis-Smith, founder of The First 100 Years said: “The Supreme Court is the pinnacle of the legal justice system in the UK, and its artwork should commemorate and celebrate our biggest legal achievements.

“Pioneering women have made staggering achievements in the legal field over the last 100 years and we want to reflect that in the Supreme Court through their art collection. By commemorating these women in the Supreme Court, we will be sending a powerful message about the value of women’s contribution to the law.”

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