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A dressing down for Mary’s naked statue

‘Bare-assed’ sculpture tribute to 18th-century feminist gets mixed reaction

13 November, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

The ‘Mary on the Green’ sculpture dedicated to Mary Wollstonecraft

THE unveiling of a statue honouring 18th-century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft – 10 years after the campaign to erect the monument began – has led to sharply divided opinions.

Organisers of the project in Newington Green selected a 10ft design by artist Maggi Hambling, finally unveiled on Tuesday. She is also known for a sculpture near Trafalgar Square of Oscar Wilde. Currently, only one in 10 statues in London is of a woman.

Ms Hambling said the silver sculpture, topped with a figurine of a naked woman, depicts an “everywoman”.

The plinth features Wollstonecraft’s words: “I do not wish women to have power over men but over themselves.”

A placard left at Newington Green by feminism protesters

It was selected by the “Mary on the Green” campaign committee from a shortlist of designs. A public con­sultation was then held before Ms Hambling’s piece was chosen.

Critics of the statue who took to social media included How to Be a Woman writer and columnist Caitlin Moran who asked why statues of well-known male figures have not been celebrated with nudity.

And children’s writer Malorie Blackman tweeted: “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.”

Protesters gathered at the statue the day after the unveiling, with one placing a black T-shirt over the figurine and another covering it with a knitted jumper. A placard read: “Where are my clothes?”

Mary Wollstonecraft

But Mary on the Green campaign chairwoman Bee Rowlatt, who has written a biography of Wollstonecraft, said: “The mistake that people are making is that it is a statue for Mary Wollstonecraft, and it is not a statue of Mary Wollstonecraft. Those are not her breasts.”

She added: “Maggi Hambling works in a very pioneering way.

“My understanding of this work of art is that it marks a complete break from the Victorian tradition of individuals on pedestals. It is something completely different and far more collaborative.

“It is a very hard thing to represent. How do you portray a birth of the movement of universal human rights? That is a very hard thing to do and personally I think she has done it. I appreciate that not everybody does.”

Newington Green councillor Jenny Kay said: “A lot of people have heard of both Mary Wollstonecraft’s work and Newington Green for the first time today. And that is a great thing. Unlike other controversial mem­orials, the more they read about Mary’s work the more they’ll appreciate what an incredible thinker she was.”

Wollstonecraft, who wrote the groundbreaking A Vindication of the Rights of Women, attended services at the Newington Green Meeting House and set up a school for women’s education, now Newington Green School.


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