“MEIt’s wonderful, I think it’s incredibly beautiful, ”said Hilary Everett, a retired social worker, as she walked past one of the most controversial, debated, and polarizing public art of 2020.
But Michaela Crimmin, art reader Spending a few minutes later, he disagreed: “I hate it. It has no aesthetics. This is one of the few public outdoor spaces in our area, and it is very cheeky to put it. I am opposed to the material, I am opposed to the shape of it, and I think the actual sculpture looks ridiculous on that pedestal. “
The “it” is Maggi Hambling’s A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft, which was unveiled last month in Newington Green, north London. Within minutes of The Guardian revealing their existence, social media went wild. What the hell was that? Why was the mother of feminism celebrated with a naked Barbie doll on top? Surely a colossal error in judgment?
Since the statue was erected, the small nude figure at the top, meant to be a spirit of femininity and not Wollstonecraft, has been covered regularly by people who felt it sent the wrong message.
“I was absolutely furious when a friend told me that,” Everett said. “I thought: what about women? I mean my body is not like hers, but I was so proud … yes! We are! It’s perfect for Mary Wollstonecraft. “
The statue was later unveiled a 10-year community campaign to raise £ 143,000 for what is the world’s only memorial statue for Wollstonecraft, the philosopher and educator who lived and worked in the area and is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792.
One of the goals was to stimulate debate. To say that it has done so is an understatement.
“We got into an international media storm,” he said. Rowlatt Bee, a writer who led the campaign. “Much of the debate was really misinformed. I don’t care if people don’t like it. I care that it was misrepresented. I did a lot of television, and what they would do is show a cropped and enlarged version, just the breasts and the pubic area, which of course looked strange. Here we are sitting in this park and ‘gross pieces’ are the last thing you see. “
Many of the most scathing and painful voices against the statue were from high-profile feminists. “There wasn’t a lot of brotherhood in some of the comments,” Rowlatt said. “Someone joked that Wollstonecraft, as the patron saint of freelance writers, would have said ‘well, at least everyone got a gig.’
“It’s unfortunate, and I didn’t want to participate because it’s the old feminist catfight show, I don’t want to be a part of it. I’ve learned that a lot of people feel like they own Mary Wollstonecraft, and of course no one does. “
Rowlatt was emotionally affected by the reaction, but she said she had no regrets. “I think Maggi Hambling is an exceptional artist. I have complete faith in her and am proud to have stood up for her work. I believe in that. If anything, I like him better now … I’ve come out with a fiercer love for him. “
On the cold, foggy December morning that The Guardian visited, hardly anyone could walk past the statue without stopping, talking to the people who were with them, or taking a picture.
It will transform Newington Green, said Lizzy Bassham, owner of the cafe. Lizzy is in the green. “It has become a tourist attraction. Everyone, whatever their gender, has an opinion on it and that’s lovely. It’s a buzz. Opinions may be polarized, but everyone talks about Mary, people discuss it over coffee. Mary Wollstonecraft was a radical woman and I think she would have loved the stir she’s caused. “
The sculpture is the work of an artist who is no stranger to public art controversies: her Scallop tribute to Benjamin Britten, on Aldeburgh Beach, and Oscar Wilde, in central London, was equally divisive.
Mary Wollstonecraft’s work is intended to personify a spirit, the naked woman emerging from a whirlpool of feminine forms. Putting clothes on him would have given him an identity, Hambling says.
The nude figure appears to be the biggest problem for most of the passers-by stopped by The Guardian. “I like it visually… I think it’s great,” said Celia Marr, attorney. “I just find the nudity jarring. I don’t understand why it was necessary for her to include a nude female figure for a feminist icon. “
Katie Doyle, a cybersecurity consultant, voiced similar concerns. “I really don’t understand the lady at the top if it’s about women and empowering women … I don’t understand why she’s naked.”
For Will McDonald, who works in consulting, it was great that Wollstonecraft was commemorated in the area where he lives. “But I think it’s a bit strange.”
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