Current media coverage, active campaigns, public involvement and creative interventions, in the debate that has been running since at least 1952.
If you are thinking of starting a campaign for a statue or memorial honouring women and would like to find some wonderful inspiration for ways of getting attention just check the tactics used in campaigns like those for Mary Wollstonecraft and Emmeline Pankhurst.
What a brainwave to project Mary Wollstonecraft's image on to the Houses of Parliament, a great way to get her in the public eye.
And imagine the power of organising a public vote like the one in Manchester to start the conversation and get a real sense from the wider public about who they truly value.
The energetic, effective campaign, led by engineer Jane Priston, to celebrate the astonishing achievements of pioneering aviator Amy Johnson resulted in not one but two beautiful, lively statues.
So that’s a thought to bear in mind; is there more than one place that is significant in the life of the person or group that you are campaigning for? Once the sculptor’s work is done, more than one cast can be made. We have such a lot of ground to make up in terms of the recognition of women that this is a strategy worth considering. Amy was important both to the people of Hull where she was born and in Herne Bay where she died.
Another clever feature of these statues is that even without a sound component they still allow Amy’s inspiring words to reach us through engravings of her words on the surface of the statue.
And for some food for thought from the USA take a look at the Moving On page for the Millie Dresselhaus video. Attitudes are changing everywhere.
The clever "Wifies" - www.wifie.org.uk - in Edinburgh made life size portraits (above) of the women they wanted to see honoured, then set them around the city: a real call to action.
Sheffield City Council used the “Just Giving” site as part of their fundraising efforts. They attracted 295 supporters and exceeded their goal of raising £150,000 and actually got £163,166. The campaign reached a highly motivated group of givers. One of the very many supporters who donated said she had made her donation:
“In memory of our lovely brave Mother, Mary Gilbert (Nee Broomhead) who worked in Munitions at Stocksbridge Steel Works during the Second World War. Remembering too, all these ladies, from both wars.”
With the extra money raised Sheffield City Council were able to strike commemorative medals to be presented to the surviving steel factory workers.
Jan. 18, 2021
In Brighton, despite the pandemic, sculptor Denise Dutton delivered the much anticipated bronze maquette of Mary Clarke, the first suffragette to die for women’s right to vote, in time for Mary’s birthday on 12th December.
Image Andrew Hasson
The Mayor, Cllr Alan Robins, who has shown unstinting support for the campaign, received it on behalf of the Appeal and the people of Brighton & Hove. The maquette represents Mary released from prison, in Brighton, a day or two before her death, wearing a suffragette sash and carrying copies of 'Votes for Women', the suffragette newspaper. The front page depicts the events of ‘Black Friday’, when, shortly before she was arrested and imprisoned, she and hundreds of other women were assaulted by police. Mary wears the Hunger Strikers’ medal and walks over the implements used in forcible feeding, which are imbedded in the surface of the plinth. She gestures towards a lamp at her feet which she has placed there for others to pick up. This refers to the words of Isabella McKeown spoken after Mary’s death
“Her they must not mourn in silence. They must take the torch from her and light the darkness...”.
Jan. 18, 2021
Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, said that the government is planning new legal protections for statues linked to colonialism and racism, that the UK should not try to 'edit' or 'censor' its history and decisions to take down heritage 'assets' in England will need both planning permission and a consultation with local communities to go ahead. Mr Jenrick said there had recently been attempts to “erase” pieces of "our national story”.
“This has been done at the hand of the flash mob, or by the decree of a ‘cultural committee’ of town hall militants and woke worthies. We live in a country that believes in the rule of law, but when it comes to protecting our heritage, due process has been overridden. That can’t be right.” He uses the Colston statue in Bristol as his prime example, failing to mention the decades of community protests and democratic petitions to have it removed. What he also fails to ask is who actually decreed that such statues should be erected in the first place? Who had the power? Were "local communities" consulted? He paints a rosy picture about the choice of civic statues saying "Most were erected not by government diktat like in the Soviet Union – but by public subscription, by a borough, village or a parish, a college, a regiment or a local business. They reflected the people’s preferences at the time, not a single, official narrative." He fails to mention that all these "choices" were overseen by the prevailing white patriarchy and political power base, which consisted almost entirely of old white men who, time and time again, erected one of their own caste.
Jenrick's record does not inspire confidence, being questioned over his parliamentary expenses, his association with Richard Desmond's ( a Conservative Party donor ) £1 billion luxury housing development, saving Desmond estmated millions, by-election expenses irregularities and his woeful handling of the Grenfell Tower disaster. All in all, hardly a paragon to be trusted with our cultural heritage.
This great new awareness of the power of the civic statue has obviously touched a nerve in the heart of that old patriarchal power base, but legislation will not turn back this tide. True consultation with communities may well produce choices that would not please Mr Jenrick and his old white band of brothers.
Dec. 1, 2020
Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian
Mona Eltahawy, a feminist author, who describes herself as a "commentator and disruptor of patriarchy" has written with feeling about Maggie Hambling's claim that the naked figure in the Mary Wosllstoncraft commemoration is an 'everywoman". In a discussion about the uses of the female nude in western art she says " Only a white woman can so blithely say “everywoman” in the year 2020 and offer a slim white nude as its prototype" Put in the context of a country whose historic colonising and Victorian prudishness has shamed the natural nakedness of colonised peoples, and used it to diminish them, this claim of an everywoman as naked and white is ironic, to say the very least. She also questions Hambling's assertion that “As far as I know, she’s more or less the shape we’d all like to be,” One can only wonder at whose version of the "ideal" shape she has bought into? Dissapointingly, it seems like the one sold to us by a patriarchy that profits from the continual attack on the many natural shapes of women, all pressured to conform to some impossible standard that can be sold clothes in tiny sizes and be made to feel forever not quite "good enough".
Dec. 1, 2020
In Denbeigh in Wales, this statue of Stanley, who was guilty of attrocities on workers on rubber plantations has been the site of protests lead by artist Wanda Zyborska, for seven years ( see post 92 ). Recent worldwide events have lead to the issue of the messages of civic statues finally rising to the top of the agenda.The Welsh government has ordered an audit into links with slavery in its public monuments. More than 200 statues, streets and buildings in Wales named after historic Britons have been identified as having connections to the slave trade. The review was ordered by First Minister Mark Drakeford following the death of George Floyd in the US and the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol during a series of Black Lives Matter protests. The audit, led by Gaynor Legall, claimed that 'commemorations of people connected with the slave trade are often shown without any accompanying interpretation to address matters of contention which lead to the figures being presented solely as role models. This is the first stage of a much bigger piece of work which will consider how we move forward with this information as we seek to honour and celebrate our diverse communities.'
photo Daily Mail
Contractors have already boarded up a statue of slave trader Sir Thomas Picton at Cardiff's civic building following a vote to have it removed. Councillors said Picton's 'abhorrent' behaviour as Governor of Trinidad meant he was 'not deserving of a place in the Heroes of Wales collection'
The Monumental Welsh Women group has alrteady begun an ambitious project to get statues of women erected across Wales, spurred by the lack of a single statue of a real historical woman in any outdoor space in Wales. The 'Five Women' mission is to normalise female ambition and success by celebrating and commemorating the achievements of great Welsh Women and inspiring the next generation of great Welsh women(see post 144). From a shortlist of five candidates for a statue in Cardiff’s new Central Square, an online public ballot conducted by BBC Wales produced a clear winner. Betty Campbell (1935-2017) was the first head teacher of colour in Wales, a Cardiffian and champion of inclusivity who faced and challenged prejudice based on her race, class and gender. The people have chosen a black woman whose community credentials made her truly worthy of being looked up to.
Nov. 30, 2020
Sculptor Denise Dutton
During her lifetime Mary Clarke overcame multiple obstacles to fight for women's right to vote. She battled an abusive husband, rough manhandling by the police, repeated imprisonment and force feeding but nothing daunted her resolve. Likewise, the the campaign for a statue in her memory in Brighton is also forging on, through all the many difficulties raised by the pandemic. The finished wax of the maquette by Denise Dutton has gone to the foundry and, COVID-permitting, the completed bronze should be ready by early December, in time for the anniversary of Mary’s birth on 12th December and of her death on Christmas Day. If you would like to lend a helping hand donations can be made at https://localgiving.org/donation/mary-clarke-statue-appeal
Nov. 27, 2020
The recent, long overdue, outcry against the glorification of slave traders in civic statues both in the USA and the UK has heightened global awareness of the power of the plinth. The senseless, racist deaths of unarmed black men in the USA has been a focal point, but is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of inequality and injustice for the black community. The Black Lives Matter movement, founded by three women: Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, aims to dismantle white supremacy in America which is the well-spring for racist violence, just as the prevailing patriarchal attitudes form the breeding ground for violence against women.
“femicide’” : “men’s fatal violence against women”
The figures for femicide worldwide are no less devastating and are part of the motivation for this site, for the gender equalisation of the figures we see set up to be admired in civic statues. If any society does not clearly demonstrate that it values and honours women as much as men, the implication is that women's lives do not have the same worth and can be taken with relative impunity.
As the world retreated inside homes due to the lockdown measures introduced to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, reports showed an alarming increase in the already existing pandemic of violence against women. Wednesday 25th November was International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which will see the start of 16 days of activism against gender violence globally. That same day also sees the publication in the UK of a groundbreaking report, Femicide Census, which, for the first time in Britain, analyses the shocking killings of women and girls, from the age of 14 to 100, at the hands of men, over a 10-year period, 2009-2018. The census reveals that, on average, a woman was murdered every three days – a horrifying statistic, unchanged over the decade in spite of greater public awareness and increased research.
It is appalling figures such as these in Mexico that give rise to powerful protests, like this moving song on youtube; Vivir+Quintana
Nov. 18, 2020
An 'Everywoman' or just another piece of fodder for the male gaze?
Caroline Criado Perez, who campaigned for women's images on banknotes, said "This feels disrespectful to Wollstonecraft herself and isn't that the most important part? In Wollstonecraft's own words: 'Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman's sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.'
Liberal feminists might celebrate this as being sexually liberating and ignore the fact that the vast majority of statues of men are fully clothed, and that they outnumber statues of women by about 25 to one. Author and feministcampaigner Julie Bindel desrcribed it as looking like "a Christmas tree decoration and not a very nice one at that".
The campaign, called Mary on the Green, said on its website that the naked woman represents "an everywoman" that "emerges out of organic matter, almost like a birth." But many critics didn't see it that way -- nor did they appreciate the use of female nudity in a statue designed to celebrate Wollstonecraft's efforts to improve women's rights.
Bea Rowlatt, the campaign leader said "The work celebrates her contribution to society with something that goes beyond the Victorian traditions of putting people on pedestals." She thanked those who had "engaged thoughtfully" with the artwork -- adding that "if you don't like this sculpture there are other campaigns for amazing women that deserve support."
Nov. 10, 2020
Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian
In her life Mary Wollstonecraft rose phoenix-like from the misery of growing up with a father, a drunk, who squandered the family money and abused both her and her mother. She received little formal education but nevertheless educated herself so that at 25 she was able to open a girls' boarding school on Newington Green, North London. She debated with the intellectual radicals of the day; Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and Joseph Priestley and at 33 wrote her most famous work "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" which imagined a social order where women were the equals of men - imagine that! - but died aged only 38 following the birth of her daughter, the author Mary Shelley, who gave us 'Frankenstein'.
The statue has caused fierce debate; the sculptor, Maggie Hambling, picked by a judging panel in 2018 said:
“This sculpture encourages a visual conversation with the obstacles Wollstonecraft overcame, the ideals she strived for, and what she made happen. A vital contemporary discourse for all that is still to be achieved.”
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."
Caroline Criado Perez, who campaigned for Jane Austen to appear on the £10 note and wrote Invisiblewomen, said the statue "feels disrespectful to Wollstonecraft herself".
Historian Simon Schama wrote that he "always wanted a fine monument to Wollstonecraft - this isn't it".
Writer Bee Rowlatt, who has led the 10 year long campign to get a sculpture celebrating Mary Wollstonecraft in Newington Green said
“It will definitely start a conversation....it will... promote comment and debate and that’s good, that’s what Mary did all her life.”
Oct. 3, 2020
Gender equality is one of the UN's sustainable development goals. Maybe it would be easier to achieve if the world had as many statues of women to look up to as it has of men. This inspiring group pf women are leading the Gender Alliance, to pursue the UN's goal.
In December 2019, some 30 female leaders from across the globe gathered together in Mérida, Mexico. They came from fields as varied as cyber law, peacebuilding, human trafficking and education, and they were meeting to kick off a new initiative, the Gender Alliance.
The mission for the alliance’s members, who include men as well as women, is to pursue the UN’s sustainable development goal No. 5, on gender equality, within their own organisations and communities: speaking up on behalf of women and girls, and fighting for justice. Members come from a quartet of organisations: the BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Network, the Global Diplomacy Lab, the Bosch Alumni Network and the Global Leadership Academy Community.
Aug. 12, 2020
This memorial is yet another llustration of the attitudes to women and men in civic statues. Sir Arthur Sullivan, composer, is memorialised on Victoria Embankment Gardens in London. He appears, formally dressed in a bust on a plinth with a woman, naked except for some drapery, leaning against the pedestal, crying, described as his muse.
The Londonist says "Ever been so mournful that most of your clothes fall off? Such is the distress of the muse who weeps at the bust of Arthur Sullivan in Embankment Gardens. The woman's naked form — cheeky glint of bum crack and all — is out of whack with the suited, straight-laced bust of he whose operas enjoyed wild success at the nearby Savoy Theatre. The girl is supposed to represent music ... But though memorial aficionados London Remembers insist she "isn't just a sexy, topless Art Nouveau floozy," they also admit this is often considered the sexiest statue in London.
So, not so much a memorial to a musician, more an early version of a Page 3 Girl.
Aug. 4, 2020
The campaign for a memorial to enslaved African people has achieved a milestone with 107,000 signatories to the petition.
( The target was 100,000 ). Here is an impression of the memorial in its proposed location in the rose garden, Hyde Park, London.
As Afua Hirsch wrote in the Guardian, months ago " Britain was built on the backs of slaves. A memorial is the least they deserve". In Bristol it is now understood that the true history of the city's wealth, including that made from the slave trade, has to be part of understanding our past and its legacies. London too must surely acknowldege the need to include all our people in the history we teach and the memorials we erect.
Aug. 3, 2020
Three views of "Reaching Out" by Thomas J Price Sculptor Thomas J Price offers this representaion of an "Everywoman" which is to be erected on 5 August on Three Mills Green in Stratford. He says he chose not to represent a named person so as to portray human empathy with the unrepresented. This statue, a 9ft bronze, will take its place as part of the public art walk called The Line, which is London’s first official and permanent public art walk; a trail of sculptures running along three miles of waterways, following the path of the Greenwich meridian between Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and The O2. It is welcome addition to only 3 full size representations of black women in the UK, all sited in London: Mary Seacole outside St Thomas Hospital,
Dame Kelly Holmes in Portman Square
and 'Bronze Woman' in Stockwell Memorial Garden.
This new statue is strikingly similar to another of Price's statues installed on The Line, of a young black man, entitled "Network".
'Network' by Thomas J Price
An interesting distinction in titles; a woman is 'reaching out' and a man is 'networking'? Perhaps still a rather stereotyped view of the roles and preoccupations of women and men?
July 27, 2020
MIxed messages from the Archbishop, the Most Rev Justin Welby, who said that statues of Canterbury Cathedral are going to be looked at "very carefully" - including the overriding image of Christ as white, rather than Middle Eastern - to see if they should be there and suggested "some will have to come down". Pressed on whether he was saying statues will be taken down in the cathedral, Mr Welby said: "No, I didn't say that. I very carefully didn't say that."
All of which leaves us wondering exactly what he means? Such decisions must indeed be a cross to bear, with the weight of patriarchal history pressing on his shoulders.
On the recent calls for statue removals in the UK, the archbishop said people should forgive the “trespasses” of people immortalised in the form of statues, rather than tearing them down. And whilst forgiveness is a laudable aim, perhaps the simple conclusion is that if a figure is set up on a plinth then we are being asked to admire that person, to "look up to" that person and thier values, in which case those who are set up on plinths should not embody hateful and criminal activities.
July 25, 2020
These First Nation women have acted to claim their own place in history, so long denied, standing on the plinth where once Columbus stood.
Last week, a sign that read "Looter. Rapist. Slave Trader" was placed around the neck of the statue of Columbus in Detroit
The Columbus figure has been a target of vandalism in the city for years. This sign-hanging was one in a series of attacks on depictions of the explorer. Columbus monuments around the country have been targetted and removed in recent weeks; in Boston, a statue was beheaded; in Virginia, another was set on fire and then thrown into a lake. New York authorities have also been requested to remove multiple structures honoring Columbus, including the 70-foot monument at Columbus Circle in New York City.
In Detroit - just as in Bristol for the Colston statue - there have been formal requests for its replacement; in 2017 City Councilwoman, Raquel Castañeda-López, called for the removal of the bust alongside the designation of Indigenous peoples' day. The Indigenous Peoples' Day now exists on the same day as Columbus Day, but the figure remained. Just as in Bristol, these requests for removal fell on deaf ears, but in the current wave of iconoclasm the Detroit mayor has decided the statue ought to be placed in storage to allow the community time to evaluate the appropriate long-term disposition of the statue.
The sign hung around the neck of the statue also included the words which translate as "Tell the truth or someone is telling." and this is the story that is finally being told, worldwide, of revulsion at the historic glorification of men whose wealth was made from oppression and exploitation.
July 17, 2020
Jen Reid, Bristol Black lives matter protestor, has been immortalised by Marc Quinn in a statue "Surge of Power", that was put up clandestinely overnight on the plinth that was formerly the seat of the slave trader Colston. It is interesting that no action to remove his statue was taken for so many years, despite the thousands of signatories to a petition for its removal and the great weight of public opinion against him. Then, suddenly, when a rich white man is taken down and a young black woman takes his place, the action to remove her is so immediate and unhesitating.
In an interview art activist Deasy Bamford said
"It took them 35 years to do nothing and 24 hours to do something."
Of course, Bristol must decide in a democratic way who or what they choose to honour in their city. Bristol Mayor, Marvin Rees has issued a statement about the need for a democratic process where the people of Bristol decide the future of the plinth. He said that a commission was being set up to tell a “fuller history” of Bristol, all of which is entirely laudable. However, it is sad that when civic statues of women are so extremely rare; less than 3% in the UK, at the last count ( and in Bristol they have 14 men on plinths and just 1 woman; the ubiquitous Queen Victoria ) and when statues of black women are even more rare, this one was removed without even giving people a chance to consider it. It seems harsh, especially when black women are arguably the human beings most discriminated against on the planet. There could have been a period of grace with an acknowledgement that her statue would be removed to allow democratic consultation.
There are also questions about whether a white man is the appropriate person at act in this situation. In response to this Marc Quin recalls a quote from Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” The artist adds: “White people in positions of power need to speak up and support change in the way black people are treated, their positions in society. I have been listening and learning and one of the phrases that really struck me was, ‘White silence is violence.’
The statue will now be held at the museum for the artist to collect or donate to the collection. Let us hope the people of Bristol take the opportunity to make their views known.