After at least 10 years of efforts, a statue to commemorate the founding feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, has finally been unveiled. I live in the area and saw it the day of the installation, dazzling in the autumn sunlight.
At first sight it confused me: the small figure of a naked woman on a roiling organic mass thrusting upwards, catching the light. I took a few snaps and rushed to catch my bus as I was running late for the studio due to a puncture on my bike.
I later began to hear about the controversy: “disrespectful” and “disappointing”, even “bad art” amongst other terms. The furore reminded me of censorship where creative work is criticised by people who haven’t even encountered the piece in question.
I have great respect for Maggie Hambling’s work so needed to make my own decision.
Firstly this isn’t a sculpture of Wollstonecraft, it’s about her ideas. It doesn’t have much “hanger appeal” as they say in the fashion business; you can’t just glance at it and get it.
Walking around you can see the variety of shapes in the base: hints of human forms and elemental forces supporting a woman at the top. From the angle above, it’s as if she is held up by a hewn Rodinesque caryatid.
The powerful and determined woman looks out from the summit, naked but not nude, strong and confident. The fact that she is unclothed is neither here nor there – this isn’t a woman presented for the male gaze – she doesn’t care and neither should we.
This isn’t a public sculpture you can assess in a second and certainly not from a snapshot. Look with attention and you will be rewarded.