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Jo Cox portrait unveiled at Pembroke College following Baroness Warsi memorial lecture

The fifth Jo Cox memorial lecture took place at Pembroke College, with Baroness Sayeeda Warsi giving a talk titled ‘Culture wars – an attempt to divide?’.

Clara Drummond, the Suffolk-based artist who painted the portrait of Jo Cox on display in Pembroke College
Clara Drummond, the Suffolk-based artist who painted the portrait of Jo Cox on display in Pembroke College

The lecture series was set up to celebrate the life and inspiring work of Jo Cox MP, who was murdered in a politically motivated attack during the run-up to the Brexit referendum in 2016, in which she supported remain.

The Batley and Spen Member of Parliament had come up to Pembroke in 1992 to read social and political sciences. The lecture, organised in conjunction with the Jo Cox Foundation and the Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge, took place before a full house at the Old Library.

Baroness Warsi became the first Muslim to serve as a cabinet minister in the UK, when she was appointed as minister without portfolio by then-prime minister David Cameron in 2010. She was also appointed as chairman of the Conservative Party – the first Asian to chair a major British political party. A daughter of Pakistani immigrants, Warsi decamped from the leave movement in 2016, accusing the campaign of “hate and xenophobia” shortly before the referendum.

She told the Pembroke College audience that splitting the country into cultural camps creates longer-term issues.

“A divided country may help win elections, but it doesn’t win a nation,” she said, adding: “I’m increasingly of the view that culture wars are sapping our energies and stopping us from solving the real issues of the day.”

A portrait of Jo by the Cambridgeshire-based artist Clara Drummond was later revealed at the college by the murdered MP’s sister, Kim Leadbeater MP, with her surviving family – husband Brendan and their two children – and master of Pembroke College, Chris Smith, Baron Smith of Finsbury, in attendance.

Pembroke College students and alumni raised funds for a Jo Cox scholarship following her death.

Clara clearly found the experience of painting the much-loved MP very intense.

“I was contacted by Pembroke College and they offered me the commission,” she told the Cambridge Independent. “It was of course very humbling and moving to be asked to do her portrait. It felt like a great responsibility but I knew straight away that I wanted to be part of celebrating and remembering Jo and everything that she achieved and stood for and so I accepted the commission.”

What are the key features of Jo’s face in your view?

“It is hard to put into words but her eyes and smile were very striking, they radiated strength and determination but also a great sense of humour and warmth.

From left are Jo Cox’s sister Kim Leadbeater MP, artist Clara Drummond, and Master of Pembroke College, Lord Smith of Finsbury. Picture: Keith Heppell
From left are Jo Cox’s sister Kim Leadbeater MP, artist Clara Drummond, and Master of Pembroke College, Lord Smith of Finsbury. Picture: Keith Heppell

“I always had the sense when I was painting Jo that she would have been quick to laugh but also that she would fiercely defend the people and the things that she believed in.

“Even though I know, from her friends and family, that Jo was a very strong person, the lasting impression that she made on me was one of delicate beauty.

“Creating the portrait was a unique experience. Because she is sadly no longer alive today I had to work from photos that were given to me by her friends and family, in particular Sarah Hamilton who was a student at Pembroke College with her.

“Over the course of hundreds of hours over many months I felt that I was gradually getting to know Jo through the process of painting her. By the time I finished the portrait I was completely in awe of Jo and of everything that she had achieved personally and professionally and the tragedy of her death became ever more acute.”

Did the family appreciate your work?

“I was extremely nervous about showing the painting to Jo’s family. I wanted above all for them to feel that the portrait looked like Jo as they remembered her but also captured something particular about her character.

“When the portrait was unveiled Jo’s mother and father and sister hugged me and said how happy they were with the portrait. This was more than I could ever have hoped for.”

Clara Drummond’s portrait of Jo Cox
Clara Drummond’s portrait of Jo Cox

Did you enjoy the unveiling?

“Like the entire process of painting Jo’s portrait, the unveiling was very emotional.

“Initially the event was extremely nerve-wracking but once Jo’s portrait was unveiled and her family seemed to be happy with the portrait I felt an overwhelming sense of relief.

“Everyone at Pembroke was extremely supportive, kind and sensitive throughout the commission and I feel so fortunate to have been asked to do this portrait for the college and its fellows, master, students and staff.”

Clara, who is due to move from the Suffolk coast to Elsworth later this year, was clearly moved by the whole experience.

“I don’t know how Jo’s family have endured her loss, it is so cruel,” the Edinburgh-born artist concluded. “At the unveiling I met Jo’s family for the first time and they were incredibly inspiring, the way that they have turned the tragedy of Jo’s death into something positive by creating a student scholarship in her memory and a memorial lecture dedicated to themes that were close to Jo’s heart, such as preventing division and encouraging people to find common ground and to find ways to work together. They are an incredible family.”

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