In Brief

Mary Wollstonecraft sculpture condemned as ‘naked silver Barbie’

Maggi Hambling’s statue is intended to represent the feminist icon’s imagination

A statue created to celebrate the life and ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft instead depicts the philosopher as a “naked sliver Barbie”, according to critics.

Maggi Hambling’s sculpture of Wollstonecraft - best known for her 1792 work Vindication of the Rights of Woman - “portrays a silver female figure emerging from a swirling mingle of female forms”, says the BBC.

But that symbolic depiction has won few fans after being unveiled on Tuesday night in Newington Green, north London, where protesters were quick to voice their objections. One demonstrator “was seen covering the statue in a black T-shirt with the message ‘Woman - Adult human female’,” the Daily Mail reports. The slogan “has been linked to anti-transgender movements”, the paper adds.

The T-shirt was soon removed, but questions about the figure’s nakedness persisted.

“Nameless, nude and conventionally attractive is the only way women have ever been acceptable in public sculpture,” tweeted writer Imogen Hermes Gowar.

Fellow author Dr Laura Wood detected a double standard, tweeting: “How many of our important male writers are depicted naked in their statues? You never see Charles Dickens with his balls out, do you?”

Statue of Mary Wollstonecraft in Newington Green, London
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But sculptor Hambling “said the critics had confused Wollstonecraft with the figure in the work”, the London Evening Standard reports.

“The whole sculpture is called ‘for Mary Wollstonecraft’ and that’s crucially important,” Hambling told the paper. “It’s not an idea ‘of’ Mary Wollstonecraft naked.”

The figure “has to be naked because clothes define people”, she added. “Statues in historic costume look like they belong to history because of their clothes. It’s crucial that she is ‘now’.”

That argument appears to have convinced jistorian Dr Hannah Dawson, who tweeted that Hambling seemed to be “drawing on what Wollstonecraft herself said about statues: that they are ‘not modelled after nature’, but are rather projections of the imagination”.

“I went to see the statue with my own eyes,” Dawson added, “and found this completely beautiful sculpture in the setting sun, surrounded by such life and bursting conversation.”

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