From April 2019, a bronze head and shoulders by John Reardon is on temporary loan to Conway Hall and can be found in The Library.
The bust of Chelsea Manning, activist and whistleblower, sits alongside artwork and objects that celebrate the efforts of campaigners throughout history who have fought for issues such as the freedom of the press, opposition to war and greater social equality.
The project attempts to bring Monument for Chelsea Manning together with the small Welsh market town of Haverfordwest – an ongoing attempt to permanently site this traditional bronze head and shoulders.
Chelsea’s mother Susan was born in Haverfordwest and it’s where she met Chelsea’s father Brian who was at the time stationed at nearby RAF Brawdy as part of the U.S. Navy. Susan and Brian left for the United States in 1979 and had Chelsea in 1987. In 2001, Susan returned to Haverfordwest with Chelsea who attended the towns Tasker Milward secondary school for several years before returning to the United States and joining the army.
In 2016, John Reardon approached Pembrokeshire County Council with the project and was told—off the record—that it would jeopardise inward investment to the town and divide the community. In short, he would never be granted planning permission for this. He also approached the churches in the town as they have a separate planning body and the power—within reason—to grant planning permission. Most of the churches—of which there are many—didn’t want to engage with Reardon about the project and the one church that did agree explained they only allowed monuments to be erected on church property to “extraordinary people.” Despite arguing how Chelsea fitted this criterion; how she is courageous and how she chose her own destiny, the church argued she wasn’t extraordinary in church-terms. In other words, as someone who gave her life to the church. It was then John began canvassing support for the project from Assembly Members in the Welsh Assembly, Cardiff and Welsh MPs in the House of Parliament, London. He received a mixed response in terms of support for the project, although he was invited to show and talk about it in the Welsh Assembly and it was also raised in a live debate on First Ministers questions.
John Reardon is artist in residence in the Politics Department at Goldsmiths, London.
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