The Parthenon of Athens is the symbol of ancient democracy; the Parliament of the United Kingdom is that of modern democracy. There is no other place in the world – or in any case, there are very few – as by themselves they represent the arduous conquest of political liberties and the slow but irreversible historical access to three generations of human rights.
The institution dates back to the Middle Ages, age where they adopted the name of the Great Council and consisted of powerful members of the clergy and nobility, who were consulted by the king on important matters. Of course, there were more likely monarchs than others willing to accept recommendations from an assembly that tended to limit their authority, but the truth is that the country was ungovernable when Legislative Power was completely ignored. Precisely, the autocratic excesses of Henry III encouraged certain nobles, affected by the misbegotten decisions of their ruler, to create a chamber that in 1264 met for the first time without being convened by the king, and held a meeting on the sidelines. An interesting note: it not only consisted of archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls and barons, but also by knights and burgesses.
In the mid 14th century, the council, which had grown in accordance to the complexities of the administration, was divided into an Upper House – or House of Lords – constituted by representatives of the aristocracy or the clergy, and a Lower House – or House of Commons, formed by knights and burgesses. Together (although not mixed) the legislators were able to impose their conditions: during the reign of Edward III the consensus of both houses was as necessary as the approval of the monarch in order to proclaim a law or institute a tax.
In 1548 the spirited Henry VIII abandoned the Palace of Westminster as the royal residence, which has since converted into the seat of Parliament. In Saint Stephen’s Chapel, which was adapted for the House of Commons to hold meetings, the legislators sat to the right or left of the king’s spokesman, as belonging to the ruling party or the opposing party, from where a popular way to designate certain political tendencies derived. In 1632, during the English Civil War, the triumph of the parliamentarians against the army of the despot Charles I started a new era where Parliament is identified as a legitimate source of power and as a strong political force independent of the king: the modern constitutional parliamentary monarchy, a starting point for European and global democracy had been born.
LThe statues of numerous kings that adorn the tops of the Palace of Westminster – a World Heritage Site (UNESCO) - reflect in the waters of the northern bank of the Thames; on one of the sides of the castle the celebrated bell of Big Ben is found, often confused with the whole clock tower; Victoria Tower is located to the south, where copies of all the approved laws have arrived since 1497; at the foot of this location is Victoria Tower Gardens – where one of the twelve casts of Les Bourgeois de Calais, by Auguste Rodin, is located, a sculpture that commemorates the gesture of six burgesses that offered themselves as a sacrifice to save their fellow citizens, an incident that at the moment France and England faced and that now unites both nations. Also there, Buxton Memorial Fountain can be appreciated, an ornate structure that commemorates the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, as well as the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, pioneer for women’s suffrage, once ignored and silenced by Parliament and today recognized in bronze for it.
It is understandable that Victoria Tower Gardens was the chosen site for Rivelino to display his ten giant nomads, which were placed in a circle – as the formation of Arthur’s knights, “king that has been and will be”, who did not support hierarchical differences among them. The fact that an exhibit had never been permitted in that space was not an obstacle to carrying it out, even though there was lengthy paperwork for security purposes that reduced the exhibit to the month of January 2011. In a culture as sensitive as that of the English, where art is integrated into public life, it is not surprising that Our Silences gave rise to a televised debate between Conservatives and Labour, and that even included the British Prime Minister.