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Anger at naked statue in tribute to ‘mother of feminism’

PUBLISHED: 11:01 11 November 2020 | UPDATED: 11:01 11 November 2020

Maggi Hambling's A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft has been unveiled on Newington Green, London, as world's first memorial to the feminist pioneer - but has sparked criticism because it shows a woman naked. Picture: Ioana Marinescu /PA Wire

Maggi Hambling's A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft has been unveiled on Newington Green, London, as world's first memorial to the feminist pioneer - but has sparked criticism because it shows a woman naked. Picture: Ioana Marinescu /PA Wire

Suffolk artist Maggi Hambling has hit back at critics who said her new statue celebrating feminist icon Mary Wollstonecraft was “disrespectful” for depicting a woman naked.

Maggi Hambling's A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft has been unveiled on Newington Green, London, as world's first memorial to the feminist pioneer - but has sparked criticism because it shows a woman naked. Picture: Ioana Marinescu /PA WireMaggi Hambling's A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft has been unveiled on Newington Green, London, as world's first memorial to the feminist pioneer - but has sparked criticism because it shows a woman naked. Picture: Ioana Marinescu /PA Wire

The statue went on display on Newington Green, Islington, on Tuesday after over a decade of campaigning and fundraising.

It is the world’s only memorial sculpture to Wollstonecraft, who lived between 1759 and 1797 and is known as one of the founding feminist philosophers.

She is described as the “mother of feminism” and was the author of A Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman, which was published in 1792.

Many have questioned why the artwork depicts a woman naked, with feminist writer Caroline Criado-Perez saying: “This feels disrespectful to Wollstonecraft herself.”

Maggi Hambling's A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft has been unveiled on Newington Green, London, as world's first memorial to the feminist pioneer - but has sparked criticism because it shows a woman naked. Picture: Ioana Marinescu /PA WireMaggi Hambling's A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft has been unveiled on Newington Green, London, as world's first memorial to the feminist pioneer - but has sparked criticism because it shows a woman naked. Picture: Ioana Marinescu /PA Wire

However Hambling, who was born in Sudbury and was schooled at Amberfield School in Nacton and the Ipswich School of Art, said her work was misunderstood.

“My sculpture, I hope, celebrates the spirit of Mary Wollstonecraft. It certainly isn’t a historical likeness,” she told the PA news agency.

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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.”

Maggi Hambling was born in Sudbury and is famous for her Scallop sculpture on Aldeburgh beach. She was schooled at Amberfield School in Nacton and the Ipswich School of Art. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA WireMaggi Hambling was born in Sudbury and is famous for her Scallop sculpture on Aldeburgh beach. She was schooled at Amberfield School in Nacton and the Ipswich School of Art. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Hambling, famous for her Scallop sculpture on Aldeburgh beach, added: “Clothes define people, As she’s Everywoman, I’m not defining her in any particular clothes.

“It’s not a conventional heroic or heroinic likeness of Mary Wollstonecraft. It’s a sculpture about now, in her spirit.”

Bee Rowlatt, author, journalist and chair of the Mary on the Green campaign, praised the statue, saying it was worthy of a feminist who deserved “a pioneering work of art”.

In a statement, she said: “There’s no question that Maggi Hambling is a challenge artist and this work is certainly not your average statue.”

“The figure is representative of the birth of a movement. She was the foremother of feminism.

“This work is an attempt to celebrate her contribution to society with something that goes beyond the Victoria traditions of putting people on pedestals.”

Hambling also said: “The female figure at the top is open and challenging the world”.

“It’s the ongoing battle - a woman ready to challenge the world.”


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