The Rights of the Child:
The Magistrates Association
100 Years of Justice
Early this year I was very happy to win a commission for the centenary of the Magistrates Association, to create a painting responding to the theme of The Rights of the Child. The brief was to create an image that incorporated some aspects of the past, such as the founder of Save the Children: Eglantyne Jebb, (who developed the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which was later taken up by the United Nations for the Convention on the Rights of the Child), within a vision of the future of Child Rights.
My idea was to depict children on a climbing frame, representing the law on child rights, in a somewhat symbolic, imaginary landscape. I drew and photographed children ( with permission) on a climbing frame in my local park, before the pandemic. (When lockdown was announced and all the playgrounds shut, these became rather poignant images.) I wanted the background to be imaginary and symbolic, and I gained inspiration from the landscapes in the early Renaissance paintings by the Limbourg brothers in Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry,1412-16.
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On the distant hills I have placed building and structures that represent aspirations (the castle on the right), justice (the figure of justice from the Old Bailey), and education, in the form of a school (to the left, based on the local primary school) and the Radcliffe Camera at the Bodleian Library, Oxford University ( In the middle). Also in the background are images of wind turbines and a whale, representing the future of the planet and nature. The climbing frame represents the structure of the law regarding The Rights of the Child. I have added words to indicate the key principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC): Development, Survival, Participation and Protection.
Clinging to the climbing frame in various positions are thirteen children. Some hold on tight, some confidently play. There are also five children that are either falling off the climbing frame, into an unknown abyss, or yet to climb up onto it. To the right sits a slightly ghostly figure, partly incorporated into the landscape. This is Eglantye Jebb, the founder of Save the Children who first created the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1924. She holds a ladder and points at a small child sitting on a rung, not yet quite reaching the structure above. The idea expressed is that for children to thrive they need the structure of the law in order to prevent them falling into poverty and adversity. The rocky terrain beneath the climbing frame suggests the danger of being unable to access these rights. The recent year of 2016 was particularly risky for some children because of welfare reform, while 2020 remains a difficult year for children due to the closure of schools and cancellation of exams as well as financial hardship for many. These years are therefore written onto the rocks that jut out, potentially injuring the the falling children further. The child holding on to the cliff at the lower right represents refugees, as indicated by his life-jacket and the overcrowded boat in the water below. The child clinging to the cliff at the lower left is in danger of falling into an area of industrial buildings suggesting child labour or lack of space to play, grow and learn.
Despite these ominous and sad images in the lower part of the picture, which could be said to represent a warning, the children higher up in the picture holding onto the climbing frame generally seem to be safe and confident. Overall, therefore, I hope that the painting expresses optimism and a bright potential future for children as long as they have the safety and structure of Children's Rights to hold onto.
The touring exhibition that this painting was going to be part of has been cancelled due to Covid 19, however a London exhibition in 2021 is still to be announced.