10 November 2020 18:30
A rtist Maggi Hambling has said critics of her naked sculpture commemorating writer and feminist icon Mary Wollstonecraft have missed the point. A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft, unveiled today in Newington Green in north London, shows a nude figure emerging from a mixture of female forms. It immediately attracted criticism, with novelist Jojo Moyes saying: "I think it would have been nice to commemorate Mary Wollstonecraft with her clothes on. "You don't see a lot of statues commemorating male political figures without their pants on." Fellow writer Imogen Hermes Gower said she hated the "sexy toned female" figure. She added: "Nameless, nude and conventionally attractive is the only way women have ever been acceptable in public sculpture." But Hambling laughed off the criticism, telling the Standard: "You can't be naked enough can you?
"The point is that she has to be naked because clothes define people. She said the critics had confused Wollstonecraft with the figure in the work. She said: "She's everywoman and clothes would have restricted her. Statues in historic costume look like they belong to history because of their clothes. "The whole sculpture is called 'for Mary Wollstonecraft' and that's crucially important.
A champion of women's rights in the 1700s, Wollstonecraft led a colourful and unconventional life — at one point ending up a single mother in the midst of the French Revolution. Best remembered for her "Vindication of the Rights of Woman" published in 1792, she called for gender equality a century before the suffragettes' campaign for women's voting rights. Related Stories Suffragist Millicent Fawcett's Statue Is Finally Unveiled in London's Parliament Square But Wollstonecraft was written out of history for a long time because of attitudes towards her personal life, which included several affairs. A monument is long overdue," said Hambling, one of Britain's most celebrated contemporary artists. Her sculpture comes amid a debate over the cultural significance of public statues and calls to commemorate more women. "There's certainly been as many important women as important men, and it's terrible there's such a lack of monuments," Hambling said. Author Bee Rowlatt, who has led a 10-year campaign for a monument, said Wollstonecraft's ideas had changed the world, but her legacy was buried in a "sustained misogynistic attack" following her death in childbirth aged 38. "Today we are finally putting this injustice to rights," she added. Cast in silvered bronze, "A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft" shows a tower of intermingling female forms rising up, topped by a figure which represents all women challenging the world. Finally, a statue for Mary Wollstonecraft, the 'mother of feminism'. pic.twitter.com/8qotrwWPfn — Julie Cain (@cain_juliendave) November 10, 2020 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. What does Mary Wollstonecraft ~naked~ symbolise that Mary Wollstonecraft clothed (& potentially the size of a normal statue, not tiny & "emerging" from a lump) wouldn't? — Zoe Gardner (@ZoeJardiniere) November 10, 2020 Wollstonecraft's quote — "I do not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves" — is written on the plinth. Hambling said the battle for women's equality was not over and the statue could be seen as "a rocket of hope going up into the sky". The artist said she wanted the sculpture to reflect Wollstonecraft's spirit, rather than her likeness, and to move away from the tradition of "male heroic statuary" to create something timeless that passers-by would engage with. Related Stories The Toppling of a Statue in Britain Has Sparked a Global Debate About Monuments of Slave Traders The statue has been erected in Newington Green in north London, where Wollstonecraft lived and ran a school for girls, but Hambling will miss the unveiling because Britain is in lockdown. Her other famous statues include a London memorial to writer Oscar Wilde, showing him rising from a granite coffin, cigarette in hand; and a giant steel shell on a beach in eastern England dedicated to composer Benjamin Britten. The Wollstonecraft sculpture comes two years after a statue of Millicent Fawcett, who spearheaded the campaign for women's right to vote, was erected in London's Parliament Square. (Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Claire Cozens. It took 200 years to get a statue honouring the life of pioneering philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, but its creators have faced criticism from almost the moment it was unveiled. The new sculpture was met with dismay and bafflement by some when it was unveiled on Tuesday, with critics asking why it did not directly depict Wollstonecraft and why the "mother of feminism" had been celebrated with a naked female form. The sculpture, which shows a silvery naked everywoman figure held up by a swirling mingle of female forms, is the product of 10 years of hard graft and persistent fundraising by the Mary on The Green campaign, which raised the £143,000 required for its creation. But on Tuesday some critics described the artwork – created by Maggi Hambling, one of Britain's most important and occasionally controversial artists – as a missed opportunity. Caroline Criado-Perez, who played a key role in the campaign to erect a statue of Millicent Fawcett, the first of a woman in Parliament Square, said the decision-making process had been "catastrophically wrong". "I don't for a second want to take away from the huge effort that they put into doing this, it is an amazing achievement, but what a waste of all the hard work," she said. I can't see her feeling happy to be represented by this naked, perfectly formed wet dream of a woman." She argued that, as a piece of political art, it should have depicted a recognisable Wollstonecraft, as less than 3% of statues in the UK were of non-royal women –. "We've celebrated so few women from the past that the temptation is to attempt [to represent] all of womanhood, which is never an issue when it's a male statue," she said. The writer Caitlin Moran tweeted: "Imagine if there was a statue of a hot young naked guy 'in tribute' to eg Churchill. But Hambling told PA Media that the statue was every woman and clothes would have restricted her to a time and place. "It's not a conventional heroic or heroinic likeness of Mary Wollstonecraft. It's a sculpture about now, in her spirit," she said. Bee Rowlatt, a writer who has been a central figure in the fight to have a statue of Wollstonecraft, said the statue represented "an idea of collaboration" and the birth of feminism. "Maggie Hambling is a pioneering artist and we wanted to do something different to putting people on pedestals," she said. The female figure was not sexualised, she added: "It's not inviting. Others criticised the form of the naked figure. Writer Tracy King, who was involved in the Millicent Fawcett statue campaign, said: "Any passing teenage boy is not going to think, oh, that's an icon of feminist education. Rowlatt said the initial reaction to the statue in Newington Green had been positive and had provoked debate and recognition of Wollstonecraft's life and work. And as far as I'm concerned, the more people that know about Mary Wollstonecraft, the better."