Antony Gormley unveiled his new sculpture at the British Library yesterday, 13 December. The sculpture, Witness, was commissioned by English PEN to mark their 90th anniversary and has been placed permanently at the British Library. Cast in iron, the work depicts an empty chair, a symbol that English PEN has used for the last 30 years to represent imprisoned writers around the world.
The sculpture joins Sir Eduardo Paolozzi’s Newton and another of Antony Gormley’s works, Planets, on the piazza in front of the British Library. English PEN feels that, as the UK's national library, the British Library is an ideal location for the sculpture to be enjoyed by its visitors and users.
At PEN’s annual event, ‘The Day of the Imprisoned Writer’, writers worldwide commemorate colleagues who have been persecuted for their work. Each year an empty chair represents a writer who could not be present because they have been imprisoned, detained, threatened or killed.
English PEN promotes the freedom to write and the freedom to read. English PEN exists to promote the role of literature in the development of mutual understanding and world culture; to promote literature in a variety of ways, including by opposing restraints on freedom of expression and working to promote literacy; and to act as a powerful voice on behalf of writers persecuted, imprisoned and sometimes killed for their views. PEN was founded in 1921 by English novelist Amy Dawson Scott.
Dame Lynne Brindley comments: “We are delighted to be chosen as the permanent home for this new work by Antony Gormley, and one that supports such an important organisation. The British Library admires the support that English PEN gives writers all over the world and is pleased to be involved in such a poignant project.”
Antony Gormley, recognised for such works as Angel of the North and Event Horizon, says: "This is a place of witness, cast in massive iron that will simply rest, isolated, for anyone or no one to occupy."
Gillian Slovo, English PEN’s President, says: “Antony Gormley has generously created for English PEN a sculpture that plays off the symbolism of PEN's empty chair. It will stand as tribute to, and reminder of, those writers who, because of censorship and tyranny, are not free to go to any library either in their countries or in ours, and at the same time recognises the work of PEN branches throughout the world in service of free expression.”