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A nude statue of a feminist hero?



The London-Stoke Newington area was once a tree-lined village outside the city. It is now a picturesque urban residence for the liberal elite of London, with an organic bakery, flower shop, candlelit restaurant, and (as of Tuesday) sculptures dedicated to the 18th-century writer and feminist hero Mary Wollstonecraft.

The work created by British artist Maggi Hambling is located in the middle of Newington Square. Newton Square is flanked by historic buildings, including a church from 1708, Wollstonecraft (Wollstonecraft). ) Have heard preaching from radicals. A short naked woman is crowned on a molten side of silver bronze, with a rough base set on a dark granite cube. The overall shape is larger than ordinary people, and sits well with the park: the silver tree trunk echoes the shape of the mottled sycamore tree nearby, and the figure cuts into the sky like a Victorian chimney.

Ms. Hambling’s sculptures like statues sometimes cause uproar. The headline of The Guardian was “Why I Hate the Mary Wallstonecraft Statue”, and then asked in a more vulgar way than the New York Times, whether a man would get a statue with a penis sticking out honor. (Don’t forget the statue of Percy Bysshe Shelley in Oxford, England, the husband of Mary, the daughter of Wolsey Stonecraft, and many statues showing romantic poets, not to mention other examples. Dating back to ancient times…)

The possible problem is that the woman in the statue of Ms. Hambling has such an ideal physique. As one Twitter user said: “I didn’t know that Mary chopped up her abs.”

When I arrived at Newrington Green on Wednesday morning, a protester was climbing on the statue, trying to cover the image of a woman with a black T-shirt, which read “Woman: adult woman, noun”, while a small group of onlookers shouted Get off at her.

When she finally left, throwing the curse, I could read the inscription on the base of the statue up close: “To Mary Wollstonecraft (Mary Wollstonecraft), 1759-1797.” Prepositions are everything: it’s not similar Where ofBut tribute to, Wollstonecraft has been a hero of the feminist movement since it was first sewn on the British suffrage flag at the end of the 19th century.

The other side of the base is a sentence (slightly rewritten) from her most famous book “Defense of Women’s Rights” published by her (1792): “I don’t want women to have power over men. But beyond themselves.”

What does this idea mean for sculptures dedicated to the life and work of Wollstonecraft? Traditionally, monuments are the domain of men: not only because they are almost exclusively organized by men to celebrate and commemorate their brothers and ancestors (though they have), but also because the notion of history written by great people is patriarchal female.

Can the unusual form of the statue be understood as a refusal to participate in the creation of the monument? Isn’t this an artwork about Wollstonecraft’s life and philosophy, not an artwork about her image? To answer such questions, you need to actually conduct research.

During the ten-year campaign, the “Green Mary” raised 143,000 pounds, or approximately US$190,000, for the creation of the statue. When the organizers commissioned Hambling, a smoking artist who seemed to like public struggles, to do this work, the organizers must have been preparing to strongly oppose it. Although primarily a painter, she created public sculpture memorials for the composer Benjamin Britten in Aldeburgh, England, and Oscar Wilde, the playwright in London. Both of these works caused controversy and were even defaced.

According to the organizers, this is the world’s first public statue dedicated to Mary Wallstonecraft. Although many people consider her to be the mother of modern feminism, the facts of her job or living an extraordinary life are not clear. She grew up in a poor family in the East End of London, and later became the widow of a rich man and later escaped as a companion to the wife of a female teacher. She and her sisters established a school in Newington Green, which and its radical church became a haven for political dissidents.

When she decided to become a writer, she knew the chance of success was small. She wrote to her sister Everina in 1787, saying that she wanted to be the “first of a new genus”.

In the early 1790s, she moved to the radical intellectual circles of London and wrote frantically to defend the French Revolution. She wrote that she happened to rush to Paris and witnessed the “Coach Hackney is about to die” of King Louis XVI.

During the bloody reign of terror, her passion for revolutionary politics was under pressure, not to mention her romance with the American adventurer Gilbert Imlay. It ended badly. The single mother of Wollstonecraft (Wollstonecraft) was alone with a foreigner in Paris, and all her friends were facing imprisonment or execution. She returned to London in 1795, and then to win Imlay’s victory, she went to Scandinavia and tracked down the silver cargo stolen from him.

In her travel memoirs, she published the unanswered letter to Imre and caught the attention of the philosopher William Godwin. After she became pregnant, even though he had just made a decision against marriage in an anarchist’s essay “Problems of Political Justice”, they decided to get married. On August 30, 1797, she gave birth to her second daughter, Mary, who later became the famous writer Mary Shelley.

Eleven days after Mary was born, Wollstonecraft died of sepsis. Godwin wrote to a friend: “I firmly believe that her equality does not exist in the world.”

The sculptural woman in Hambling stands tall on the top of the undulating hills, and seems to embody an epic legend, many women endure their voices for this. The reaction to the work focused on the naked body of the small “every woman”. But can this also be understood as a metaphor for Wollstonecraft’s personal vision of authenticity? A woman freed from the troubles of society?

Putting Wollstonecraft on the pedestal in more traditional terms would mean focusing on her appearance and evening dress of the day. On the contrary, Ms. Hambling put forward a provocative image of Wollstonecraft’s female image, calling it “neither a heroine nor a barbarian. But a reasonable creature.”

In the UK and abroad, many people made a fuss about the statue because the coronavirus pandemic imposed restrictions on local and international travel, so they could not see the sculpture of Ms. Hambling in her silver body. Once these are removed, “reasonable creatures” will no longer argue about cropped images on social media. I wonder if it will trigger a more subtle debate?

This is a kind of public art designed to speak to audiences in real life in the present tense. As Virginia Woolf once said to Wollstonecraft: “Even now, we can still hear her voice and track her influence.”




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