This Nude Mary Wollstonecraft Statue Sure Is … Something
Was the Fleabag statue not available?
Today, a sculpture in honor of famed English writer Mary Wollstonecraft was unveiled in North London. Wollstonecraft, long considered “the mother of feminism,” was a women’s rights advocate best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which she wrote in 1792. The treatise argued for women’s equality, especially in education, and became a landmark feminist text.
A tribute to Wollstonecraft is long overdue, but many were perplexed by the statue made by famed British artist Maggi Hambling. The silvered bronze sculpture features a nude woman standing atop an amorphous blob described as a “swirling mingle of female forms.” It’s a strange memorial to a feminist icon that raised more than a few eyebrows:
‘Mother of feminism’
Abused by drunk father
Set up girls’ boarding school at 25
Wrote about the rights of women
Mixed in academic circles
Died age 38 after giving birth to the author Mary Shelley
Gets a statue – great!
Oh. 🤦🏼 pic.twitter.com/Bd0wDSJnAV
— Ruth Wilson (@RuthWilsonPR) November 10, 2020
If you want to make a naked statue that represents “every woman”, in tribute to Wollstonecraft, make it eg: a naked statue of Wollstonecraft dying, at 38, in childbirth, as so many women did back then – ending her revolutionary work. THAT would make me think, and cry.
— Caitlin Moran (@caitlinmoran) November 10, 2020
Thanks I hate it??? pic.twitter.com/FeF1i2wdZG
— Imogen Hermes Gowar (@girlhermes) November 10, 2020
“Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.” Mary Wollstonecraft on the harm done by reducing women to decorative sex objects, published back in 1792.
— Sister Outrider (@ClaireShrugged) November 10, 2020
I am glad that we are all talking about #MaryWollstonecraft today. I think it’s really important to celebrate and mark with public statues the contribution of women. I know how hard and for how long the team worked to make this happen. I also really wish it wasn’t a naked statue.
— Sophie Walker (@SophieRunning) November 10, 2020
Genuine question: Why present Mary Wollstonecraft as naked?
I’ve seen many statues of male writers, rights activists and philosophers and I can’t remember any of them being bare-assed. https://t.co/CNUmBgzldD
— Aunty Malorie Blackman (@malorieblackman) November 10, 2020
In response to the criticism, Hambling clarified that the statue was “for” Wollstonecraft, not “of” her, representing instead an “everywoman” impacted by Wollstonecraft’s work. “This sculpture encourages a visual conversation with the obstacles Ms. Wollstonecraft overcame, the ideals she strived for, and what she made happen,” said Hambling. As for the nudity, she added, “Clothes define people and restrict people, they restrict people’s reaction. She’s naked and she’s every woman.”
As for the size of the nude woman in relation to the rest of the statue, she said, “Most male historic statues are way over life-size. My point was that the female figure doesn’t need to dominate to be powerful.” Okay but counterpoint: Why not make her bigger than a Barbie? Many are upset that the supposed “everywoman” still fits into the Western model of thin white conventional beauty.
Bee Rowlatt, chair of the Mary on the Green campaign, which spent the last decade raising funds for the statue, said, “Mary Wollstonecraft was a rebel and a pioneer, and she deserves a pioneering work of art. This work is an attempt to celebrate her contribution to society with something that goes beyond the Victorian traditions of putting people on pedestals.”
I get the sentiment, sure. An unconventional woman ahead of her time deserves a fittingly modern tribute. But there are plenty of examples of this that don’t rely on full frontal nudity. I mean, honestly, this feels like the Fleabag award for feminism. Are we sure Phoebe Waller-Bridge didn’t accidentally drop the original?
If we’re looking for positives, at least this “everywoman” statue has a full bush. (Pubic hair representation for the win?) But I think we all expected more from a Wollstonecraft tribute, especially considering the fact that more than 90% of public sculptures in London are dedicated to men. What’s frustrating is that the statue doesn’t especially feel like a tribute to Wollstonecraft, which is the reason for its existence.
Despite its detractors, there are many who love the statue and what it represents.
I actually love this, it reminds me of Metropolis crossed with the birth of Venus. pic.twitter.com/TDsYxAhQ51
— Dr Fern Riddell (@FernRiddell) November 10, 2020
Basically I like that I get to have a mental wank over what it means and what it says. Because isn’t that what art is supposed to be about? Aren’t we supposed to think actual stuff about it?
— Dr Fern Riddell (@FernRiddell) November 10, 2020
Mainly I’m a bit meh about the fact that the figure looks so awkward. Again, this is because of MW’s writings. She’s so interested in female activity/health/vigour, and lays such emphasis on exercise as important for healthy development. I don’t get that, looking at this.
— Dr. Sophie Coulombeau (@SMCoulombeau) November 10, 2020
Of course, art is subjective and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Still, I can’t help but feel like this was an opportunity missed. In the meantime, if you want to see stunning and clothed statues of extraordinary women, Caitlin Moran has a terrific thread on her Twitter.
(via BBC, featured image: screencap)
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