A sculpture commemorating Mary Wollstonecraft has been revealed in Newington Green. From artist Maggi Hambling, it is a metallic shimmering piece which now stands in the centre of the Green. It shows a nude female figure atop of a distorted silver tower.
The choice of Newington Green was always going to be the most appropriate location for a sculpture tribute to Mary Wollstonecraft. She lived here in a home next to the green and set up a school for girls here. The area is intimately connected with her life and her legacy. For many she is a key figure in the history of feminism and women’s rights.
Mary Wollstonecraft Sculpture
The culmination of a campaign to commemorate her life. It has nonetheless caused some controversy. Far from the more traditional lifelike depiction, this sculpture is something more. The work is a representation of a whole number of things. It is a piece that poses questions rather than one which blithely just gives away the answers.
“My sculpture involves this tower of intermingling female forms culminating in the figure of the woman at the top” says Maggi Hambling. She is both “challenging and ready to challenge the world”. Created in bronze it has been painted in silver. “I feel silver to be a much more female colour than bronze. The silver will catch the light and float in space”.
Symbolism and Controversy
Visiting the sculpture on Newington Green just a few days after it was revealed, the interest was still very much there. Many people visiting perhaps in part because this particular work has generated quite a divergence of opinion. Against the base of the piece some had placed placards. Many questioning the symbolism of using a naked woman to depict a trailblazing campaigner for women’s rights. Others however use her own words to support the representation.
This is far more than a piece which should be taken at face value. Naked at the top, the female figure looks out over the green. She had no worries about her appropriateness. “I wanted to make the sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft to celebrate the life force she was” says Maggi Hambling. This is art after all and within the work the artist is saying much more.
Mary Wollstonecraft lived at a time when her ideas were considered radical. Stoke Newington was one of the more liberal bastions of London where these thoughts would get more of an airing. Her views of education were pivotal. She believed that girls and boys should be educated together and at state expense. Her book ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Women‘ would go on to be influential at the birth of the suffragette movement.
Yet part of the reason why there was such a desire to commemorate her legacy was that in the years after her death she was purposely smeared. Her ideas though were stronger and despite those who wanted to dismiss her, she prevailed. The sculpture, the culmination of a 10 year campaign, does what good public art should do. It has started a conversation and it has brought Mary Wollstonecraft’s legacy back to where it belongs. That is right at the heart of the centuries long struggle for equal rights.
‘A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft’ was visited on 14 November 2020. It was created by Maggi Hambling and installed on 11 November 2020. It can be found in Newington Green, Stoke Newington.
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