A statue of pioneering philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft has provoked a strong backlash just hours after being put on display.
The sculpture, which portrays a naked woman held up by a swirling mingle of female forms, was erected in Newington Green, Islington, after a decade-long campaign to memorialise ‘the mother of feminism’.
But the silvered-bronze piece, by Maggi Hambling CBE, has been heavily criticised as ‘disrespectful’ with many questioning why it is showing a naked woman that is not a lifelike depiction of Wollstonecraft herself.
The 18th century author was known as a radical thinker who fought for women’s rights and education for all.
Her statue was finally unveiled during a Facebook live this evening after organisation Mary on the Green led a ten-year campaign to raise £143,000 for the statue.
Campaigners said more than 90% of London’s monuments celebrate men, despite 51% of the population being made up of women.
But even before the monument was officially unveiled in Newington Green – close to where Wollstonecraft lived and worked – many took to social media to express their disappointment or poke fun at it.
Journalist Caitlin Moran tweeted: ‘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,’ Moran added, before she and her followers shared statues of pioneering women who have not been memorialised in the nude.
Caroline Criado Perez, who campaigned for Jane Austen to appear on the £10 note, said the statue was ‘so so disappointing’ and that it ‘feels disrespectful to Wollstonecraft herself’.
Writer Tracy King tweeted: ‘There is no reason to depict Mary naked unless you are trying to be edgy to provoke debate. Statues of named men get to be clothed because the focus is on their work and achievements.
‘Meanwhile, women walking or jogging through parks experience high rates of sexual harassment because our bodies are considered public property.’
But organisers said the statue ‘personifies the spirit, rather than depicts the individual’ and that ‘the figure is representative of the birth of a movement’ – feminism.
Ms Hambling, one of Britain’s best known artists, said critics had misunderstood.
‘My sculpture, I hope, celebrates the spirit of Mary Wollstonecraft. It certainly isn’t a historical likeness,’ she said.
She said those who have criticised it ‘are not reading the word, the important word, which is on the plinth quite clearly: “for” Mary Wollstonecraft. It’s not “of” Mary Wollstonecraft.’
But historian Simon Schama tweeted that he ‘always wanted a fine monument to Wollstonecraft – this isn’t it’.
Cardiff University lecturer Emily Cock wrote: ‘Finally, public acknowledgement that women in the eighteenth century were stark naked and extremely small.’
One user wrote: ‘There’s nothing wrong with being naked, but WHY is she naked? 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?’
Another said: ‘I, for one, am loving the new Mary Wollstonecraft statue. I had no idea Mary had shredded abs or bouffant pubes.’
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