On the 7th June, 2016, one hundred and fifty years to the day since the campaign for women’s votes began, New Dawn, an artwork celebrating all the individuals involved, was revealed in Westminster Hall, the oldest part of Parliament. New Dawn is located above the entrance to St Stephen’s Hall, the site of numerous demonstrations, so that viewers of the artwork will literally stand in the footsteps of the hundreds of thousands of women and men who came to Parliament to fight for women’s right to the vote.

New Dawn is a contemporary light sculpture and a permanent addition to the Parliamentary Art Collection, as well as the first piece of abstract art commissioned for permanent display in the historic palace. Measuring over six metres high, the massive scale of New Dawn is intended to reflect the size of the campaign, and the unique hand-blown glass scrolls that make up its dawning sun reflect the many individuals who were involved in the movement and the special contribution they made to modern democracy.

The New Dawn unveiling to a packed Westminster Hall
Photo Credit: Kerry Wilson


The artwork draws on the visual language of Parliament itself. The scrolls are a direct reference to the Act Room at the Parliamentary Archives, where the legislation which brought women the vote and a say in the laws that govern them is stored. The glass scrolls are mounted on a portcullis structure – the principal emblem of Parliament – raised over the entrance to St. Stephen’s Hall, symbolising women’s long-awaited access to democracy.

The circular scrolls combine with the metal portcullis to create 168 distinct ‘Venus’ symbols, representing the women who fought for their right to vote. New Dawn has also been influenced by the campaigners it celebrates. The rainbow of colours used in the artwork reflects the numerous organisations that were involved in the struggle, including the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, the Women’s Social and Political Union, the Women’s Freedom League and the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage.

The title of the piece comes from the language of the campaigners themselves, many of whom conceived of the vote as offering a ‘new dawn’ for women.

The parchment scrolls in the Parliamentary Archive
Photo Credit: Mat Clark

The scrolls depicted the handblown glass, with the portcullis frame behind. Together they form the Venus symbol of women.
Photo Credit: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor


The lighting of New Dawn’s sun shape will rise and fall over a twelve and half hour cycle, linked to the tide of the Thames.  The ebb and flow of the illumination reflects the ever rising tide of change that campaigners were certain would bring women the vote in time.  Each scroll is individually lit, and the appearance of the artwork will change moment to moment, encouraging onlookers to consider the work more deeply and to reflect on the value of the vote and women’s role in democracy.

New Dawn was revealed on the 150th anniversary of John Stuart Mill MP presenting the first mass petition calling for women’s votes in the House of Commons. This date is generally seen as the beginning of more than seventy year’s campaigning for the vote, involving hundreds of thousands of people across the UK.

Placed on the route to the public viewing galleries, as well as the public tour route, New Dawn will educate, inform and inspire the one million visitors who pass though Parliament doors each year.







A look at the making of New Dawn, from conception to the opening night in Parliament. [41 Minutes]


To read Mary's diary throughout the residency, visit www.newdawnartwork.com



Adam Aaronson, Glass Artist   Click for website
Applelec, LED Lightsheet Manufacturer   Click for website
Avolites, Lighting Software  Click for website
Chris Wilson, WLX productions, Technical Design   Click for website
Ed Jordan, Technical Support
Emma Brown, Photographer  Click for website
Kengo Kurimoto, Prototyper  Click for website
Mat ClarkTechnical Support  Click for website
Musson Engineering, Metalwork
Paul Clark, Technical Support  Click for website
Peter Bridgeman, Technical Support
United Anodisers, Metal Finishing  Click for website


Special Thanks:

Claire Hope, Nick Lott, Vince Jack, Akimasa Kurimoto, Roger Kings, Jono Retallick, Peter Ockendon, Alison Carlier.

Harvest. Light sculptures, 300m x 250m field, 66 x LED Bales. 

Harvest is a site-specific intervention on farmland beneath Box Hill, Surrey.

In developing this project, Branson explores the relationship of the local farming community to the land, the processes and rituals of harvest time and the impact of the changing climate on their business. Harvest is an illuminated artwork highlighting some of the unseen work that goes into shaping the landscape that is often taken for granted.

Our changing climate has had a particularly damaging result on farming this year, with the drought causing a much-reduced crop. Branson’s installation features sixty-six ‘skeleton’ bales – illuminated outlines, arranged in a farmed formation across the lower field.

 ‘It’s a rare privilege to be able to create an art work for such a beautiful location. Observing the fields’ harvest cycle has been a real eye opener, seeing the delicate balance faced each season with the increasingly extreme weather conditions. This is the story that has shaped my installation’. Mary Branson, 2018.

Engaging with groups of different ages, Mary is sharing this hidden work as well as her own process as an artist. The piece will culminate in a community celebration of the landscape at the Box Hill viewpoint on the 29th September 2018. The celebratory event will include traditional singing from community choirs and a special calling event led by artist Alison Carlier - from the artwork to viewpoint and back.

The installation will be lit from 15th-29th September, dusk until 10pm every Saturday and Sunday. The light installation will be visible from Salomon’s Memorial, enabling viewers to see the work from a distance and also at closer proximity through guided night time walks.

For more information, please visit http://www.surreyunearthed.org/

Bale detail. John Miller.

Bale detail. John Miller.

Harvest - Dusk. John Miller.

Harvest - Dusk. John Miller.

Drone Image. Tom Soulsby.

View from Box Hill. John Miller.

View from Box Hill. John Miller.


Ladders of Light… A new constitution for the UK.

February 5th - April 3rd, 2019 Salisbury Cathedral.

 An exciting new work from two artists, the award-winning poet and broadcaster Lemn Sissay MBE and fine artist Mary Branson. The installation in Salisbury Cathedral explores the possibility of a ‘new charter' for the UK when we leave Europe. Put into care as a child, Sissay's poetic constitution reflects on our duty to the most vulnerable in society, particularly children, while Branson’s ethereal, illuminated ladders are a metaphor for a socially mobile pathway to a more just and equal society. The installation encourages the observer to look up towards a higher plane, to cross divides and overcome barriers. A powerful blend of poetry and visual art, the work both mirrors the grandeur and aspiration inherent in the Cathedral's Gothic architecture and conveys the fragility of our community. 

Ladders of Light is a Storyvault commission for Sky Arts 50 and is curated by Jacquiline Creswell, Salisbury Cathedral’s Visual Arts adviser.

‘And he took one of the stones, and put it under his head, and he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And the Lord stood beside him and said:  thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. And in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’

Genesis 22:18

‘As I write about my future installation Ladders of Light (All the families of the earth be blessed) the British government are about to decide on how to leave the European Union.

As a child of the 70’s, I have enjoyed the benefits of growing up and working in an environment where I felt a close connection to our European neighbours. I wanted my son to have the same experience. I worry for his future and the younger generations, facing a very different setup in which they have had no voice.

Whatever my personal vote, I’m a pragmatist. If we are to become a distinct Island again, then I to look to the people to create a just, equal and caring society.’ 

Ladders of Light responds to the huge elevations of Salisbury Cathedral, inviting the viewer to raise their eyes upwards within the sacred space, the giant columns like tree trunks piercing the mists that loom over the land. 

‘Using this framework, I imagine mental bridges like huge synapses, spanning up and across the cathedral, the multiple ladders turning the space into an ethereal building site, encouraging us to reach out to restructure a new society.’

Seeing the ladders in the context of the Christian building one sees the parallels in Genesis’s Jacobs’ ladder. 

The stone pillow on which he rests his head are the hewn Chilmark stones which anchor the work to its foundations. The rungs linking man to heaven (perhaps a better place than we in are now) and the command from God in creating his church: “All the families of the Earth be Blessed”- a message of equality across all nations.





Ladder detail.

Ladder detail.

Installation, Triforium.

Installation, Triforium.

With thanks to:

Mat Clark, Colin Musson, Edd Jordan, Emma Brown, Jane Fairbanks, Sara Scott, Peter Smith, Mary Hainline, Paul Clark, Katy Hunter-Choat, Mags Hardwick, Barbara Hester, Jill & Peter Gulabov, Rosemarie Juliano, Cate Davey, Ben Clark, Pippa Vaughan, Jim Leonard, Julie Hoyle, Josie Davis and David Rayment at Sinclair and Rush.

Special thanks: Jaquiline Creswell, Gary Price, Russell Cruse, Ricardo da Fonseca and all the team at Salisbury Cathedral.

My mum was born on the 20th January 1925 at her home Ithaca, on the banks of the Essequibo river, near George Town in Guyana. She now lives in Surrey, cared for by my dad, who is 95 years old.

I can’t remember exactly when my mum stopped talking. We moved into a pattern of reassuring loops of supportive phrases to help us navigate our way from one moment to the next, and one day we arrived at a silence between us. All that was left was a searching in each other’s eyes for something we had both lost.

I made this work firstly for me, a reminder of the night my mum and I were able to talk again. The night I heard her voice, not the voice I last heard, but her voice from 20 years ago that was clear and vital, unravaged by dementia and medication.

I made this work for anyone else who finds themselves in the same situation, feeling the same sense of loss.

As an installation artist, this is my way of describing this human condition. Others might use words or go on a hike to raise money. Whatever the way, a person needs to express a sadness which is eked out over a long time.

The dream.

Artists have always used dreams as a source of inspiration. Many of my installations have started from dreams that have stayed with me. Often I have gone to sleep with a loose idea, and a dream will help me to shape it.  What was different was that this dream felt like an extraordinary event.  My mother’s voice was so loud it was as if she was in the room with me, not of the same quality I have experienced in dreams before.

On waking, I realised how much I missed our conversations. The content wasn't important, rather the exchange, the reassuring rhythm, learnt over a lifetime between us.

It was a beautiful dream; an oasis in a desert of frozen grief.

The image of a boat on a lake in the moonlight, the gold, the magnolia petals as if dropped by a tree, are strong archetypal symbols and need no immediate explanation. But the power of the mind to evoke imagery to work through complex emotions does amaze me. 

The Boat.

The boat is made of old waste wood, mainly from pallets, shaped, bent and then gilded in a concentrated effort to create a precious object. in the same way, a dream can collect old memories, feelings and emotions and crystallise them into a single extraordinary vision.

The petals.

Unexpected consequences of making art are always a joy for me. My mum loves Magnolias. She has three in her garden. 

I wanted to get a quality to the petals, so I asked for help from friends to come and help make them from hand-painted silk. The response was overwhelming, I had seventy women and a couple of honorary men. We spent a beautiful day together surrounded by pictures of our mums. We made a thousand petals and shared a lot of stories of love and loss. The petals you see are all individually made.

The sound

In 2012, I made a work for the cultural Olympiad and I wanted an older person to recite a John Clare poem, 'Insects' as part of its sound piece. I asked my mum. At this point she could access a part of her brain where she was able to read, but not really  have a conversation. This was the last time I heard her speak for an extended period. 

I have recorded myself reciting the poem alongside her, perfectly in sync, copying her mistakes and stumbles, (which there are only a few), as a way to be completely with her in dialogue, a moment for us to be back together in waking time.


Mary Branson, Febuary 2018.

With special thanks:

Edd Jordan, Mat Clark, Kathy Pearlson, Emma Brown, Susan McGrath, RoyHogben, Craig Hills.

Chris Wilson (WLX productions).

Daisy McBurney, Hilary Lewin, Mags Hardwick, Mary Hainline, Chris Jordan, Jo Bellingham, The Dennis Boys, Paul Clark, Shola Branson and  Arts Council England.



Albury Old Saxon church, Surrey. March 2018.

Albury Old Saxon church, Surrey. March 2018.

The 5 metre rowing boat, constructed from old pallets and lined with copper leaf.Swiss Church, Covent Garden, London Feb 2018.

Magnolia petal workshop.

Studio recording Jan 2018.

Studio recording Jan 2018.

Twenty eight tent structures sited on the Mount overlooking the town, and illuminated from dusk until dawn for three day and nights.

The inspiration for the work came in part from a novel – ‘The Red Tent’ by Anita Diamant.  It is a biblicalstory set in Syria around 1500BC and portrays the strengths of female relationships in pre-modern society.  It tells of the way in which, in some cultures the women of the village who were menstruating would stop work, separate themselves from the group, and move together into huts or tents away from the centre.

Red Tents is a representation of this rite. In placing the light installation away from the town centre but still in view, I wanted to illustrate the subtle separation of the experience which reinforces the uniqueness of the female sex.


Measuring the impact of the arts within prison


From January 2014 I have been artist in residence at HMP Send, Surrey.

I mentor a group of 10 female inmates.

Prisoners are issued with ‘volumetric boxes’ in order to store their personal possessions over the duration of their sentence.

The size of these black cardboard containers sets the limit for their official quota of physical possessions in the prison.

In the event of cell searches or relocation, inmates are required to store everything they own within the confines of the box; additional material is forbidden.

The box structures are a representation of each of the members of the Watts Art Group – their presence, their individual personalities, their creativity – each reduced to a symmetric symbol imposed by their circumstances, into which once a week, I am allowed a small window.  

An installation is created with the same boxes laid out in the gallery- displayed and lit as artistic pieces.

 ‘The group’ is interposed within the classical surroundings of the gallery space, surrounded on all sides by the socially engaged paintings of George Watts, and housed overall within the bigger Watts Trust, with its ethos of The Arts as a vehicle for social transformation.


Photo Credit: Emma Brown

The Echoing Space An artists’ residency at Leith Hill Place,

February to July 2018 - With Julie Hoyle and Penny Green

Funded by Arts Council and National Trust

The House of Life

Mary Branson and Emma Brown 2018.

During the winter months, I’d stand at the windows and stare out at the views, my thoughts far away in the landscape, only returning because of the sound of life from within the building. 

Volunteers preparing the house for open season. Laughter coming up from the kitchen where gardeners and the DIY team gather by the Aga to keep warm, drinking tea and sharing freshly baked cakes. Managers ushering interested parties about the rooms, their voices echoing around the empty spaces.

For me the key to understanding this house is in the people who bring it to life. 

Over the past four months I have watched the continual transformation of the building through the enthusiasm and dedication of a core group of people who love Leith Hill Place. Now open to the public, the volunteers and managers spend their days welcoming visitors, telling the story of the building and allowing people to wander freely - to experience the space as a home. Due to their approach, they have created a unique experience for visitors, turning it into a ‘House of Life’.

This installation is a snapshot of some of the team. I wanted to record their mark on the history of the building as its future develops over the next three years.

Collaborating with award winning photographer Emma Brown, we spent two weeks in early May 2018 capturing the people of Leith Hill Place and their favourite spaces in the house. We used informal recorded interviews and Wet Plate Collodion photography -  a 19th century photographic technique.

Reflecting on the fragile nature of the present building and the relative rapid changes it is undergoing, I decided to create an exhibition that through its materials expresses a flux. 

I have combined the tintype photographs with the voices produced and played through an old 78 rpm gramophone.

 Both these technologies have a vulnerability and impermanence. When exhibited over the next month, they may start to capture a sense of loss from the original documentation – the photographs fading in the daylight, and the voices disappearing into crackle and static.

 Mary Branson, May 2018.


Tintype Portrait.

Tintype Portrait.

Tintype Portrait.

Tintype Portrait.

78 Rpm Disc.

78 Rpm Disc.

Tintype portraits.

Tintype portraits.

In 2011, I was approached by Surrey Arts to collaborate with artists Jono and Debi Retallick and Mat Clark to create a multi -sensory landscape installation that would be part of the Olympic torch relay event celebrations in Surrey. 

Over a period of three months we created the twelve, six-meter columns that were made up of one thousand individual pieces of chalk, hand made porcelain leaves and cast bio-resin insects.  

Mat Clark produced a surround sound score to which the lighting sequences were programmed.



To create a series of sculptural shafts of light within the trees, like the beams that show up dust swirling in the air. 

I wanted the light source framing our suspended pieces to have an architectural, cathedral like quality. The soundscape needed to animate the sculpture and have a cinematic sense, creating a magical, joyful and sometimes frightening effect.  



Photo Credits: Emma Brown

Created using three thousand kiln fired recycled glass jars of varying size, arranged as a large-scale installation approx 8m in diameter.

The jars were arranged on the ground, in sets of concentric circles, which were floodlit using ultraviolet projectors.

The jars had been slumped during multiple kiln firings to produce an array of unique and individual shapes, collectively giving them an anthromorphological feel. The illuminated circle was arranged in such a way that the jars appeared to ‘lean’ into a central spot.

As dusk fell, the piece gradually emerges from the mixture of the natural twilight and the projected UV.   

The piece was accompanied by a multichannel sound work featuring rising and falling orchestral chords, samples of radio interference, and snippets of dialogue taken from the early Apollo moon missions.

This work was viewed on two levels, from the ground, where the detail of the individual shaped glass was visible, and from above, using the roof balconies of the Abbots Hospital for an aerial view.

The Smell of the Moon was inspired in part by the story of Apollo 16 astronaut Gene Cernan, who noticed the smell of ‘burned gunpowder’ from the dust on his boots when he removed his helmet inside the capsule after completing his moon walk.

The notion of a space where a sense cannot exist.

To imagine the moon in a multi-sensory way, rather than as light in the sky makes it more real – less distant or scientific, bringing an imaginary environment alive and forming a starting point for this installation.

For this piece I wanted people to view the work from the rooftop of the building – which meant climbing a 14-century spiral staircase in the darkness, to emerge onto a narrow gallery rarely open to the public.


Photo Credit: Emma Brown

The Birth of Stars is a bespoke digital light, sound and dance event created by Choreographer Rachel Palmer from The Dance Movement with artist Mary Branson, composer Mat Clark and animator Rosie Gunn. The work was commissioned by G Live, Guildford and performed on 11 – 12th October 2013 over 4 performances.

The cyclical process of a star being created and extinguished was brought to life in the studio space. A 35 minute performance staged as a metaphor for the cycle of human existence.

Experienced from the outside the building looking in, audiences watched as performers interacted with digital light projections, listening to an intimate 3D sound score on wireless headphones.


Photo Credit: Ciarran Minns