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Statue for Mary Wollstonecraft on Newington Green splits opinion: ‘It has got people talking but hasn’t brought them together’

PUBLISHED: 22:22 17 November 2020 | UPDATED: 10:54 18 November 2020

The Gazette spoke to people passing the statue to get their opinion. Left to right: Martin Lynch, 57, and Jim Harrison, 61. Picture: Sally Patterson

The Gazette spoke to people passing the statue to get their opinion. Left to right: Martin Lynch, 57, and Jim Harrison, 61. Picture: Sally Patterson

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A new statue dedicated to the mother of feminism on Newington Green has split public opinion, with residents both pleased by the attention it has brought to the area and concerned it “doesn’t further a feminist agenda”.

The Gazette spoke to people passing the statue to get their opinion. Drummer Siemoi Di watched the statue be erected with four-year-old son Felician. Picture: Sally PattersonThe Gazette spoke to people passing the statue to get their opinion. Drummer Siemoi Di watched the statue be erected with four-year-old son Felician. Picture: Sally Patterson

The £143,000 silvered bronze-cast statue by Maggi Hambling for Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, was erected on the green on November 10 after a decade of campaigning.

READ MORE: Mary Wollstonecraft statue comes to Newington Green after decade-long campaign

READ MORE: Mary Wollstonecraft statue group co-founder defends design: ‘What’s so shocking about the female form?’

Andy Pakula is the minister of New Unity Church, which overlooks Newington Green and is where Mary Wollstonecraft worshipped.

He told this paper: “Overall, my congregation is delighted there’s a monument to Mary Wollstonecraft, but wish it was different.

“It has got people talking but hasn’t brought them together behind her work.”

The Gazette spoke to people passing the statue to get their opinion. Stoke Newington resident of 29 years Patricia Howlett, 67. Picture: Sally PattersonThe Gazette spoke to people passing the statue to get their opinion. Stoke Newington resident of 29 years Patricia Howlett, 67. Picture: Sally Patterson

Becky Laxton-Bass, founder and director of Women of London, a walking tour company dedicated to women’s achievements and legacy, also felt the heroine’s ideas had been overshadowed by the controversy.

“This probably wouldn’t be such a big deal if there were more statues of women,” she added.

Stoke Newington resident of 29 years Patricia Howlett, 67, has written poetry about Mary Wollstonecraft, and is not impressed with the statue.

She told this paper: “I think she’s disempowered in relation to who she is and what she stood for, I don’t know why she’d be represented with no clothes on.

The Gazette spoke to people passing the statue to get their opinion. Left to right: Martin Lynch, 57, and Jim Harrison, 61. Picture: Sally PattersonThe Gazette spoke to people passing the statue to get their opinion. Left to right: Martin Lynch, 57, and Jim Harrison, 61. Picture: Sally Patterson

“There’s no shame of the female body, but would they portray a man that way? No they wouldn’t. I think there should be a petition to have it remoulded.”

Similarly, Jaz Arizona, 18, who recently graduated from Stoke Newington School, told this newspaper she does not think the statue aligned with Wollstonecraft’s beliefs.

She said: “Hambling called her ‘everywoman’, but she is not every woman. She’s a thin, conventionally attractive, extremely privileged woman.

“People are working to tear that stereotype down, and the artist has built it back up again.”

The Gazette spoke to people passing the statue to get their opinion. Jodi Taylor and Jaz Arizona, both 18. Picture: Sally PattersonThe Gazette spoke to people passing the statue to get their opinion. Jodi Taylor and Jaz Arizona, both 18. Picture: Sally Patterson

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Her friend Jodi Taylor, 18, added: “She literally looks like a Barbie doll in some silver foil.

“Her whole point was to prove we’re equal, and that’s not by stripping off and being naked. It’s important to expose the female body in a non-sexualised way but I think that should be expressed on a separate occasion.”

Drummer Siemoi Di, who watched the statue be erected with four-year-old son Felician, agreed the nudity was unnecessary.

The Gazette spoke to people passing the statue to get their opinion. Georgia Lepper. Picture: Sally PattersonThe Gazette spoke to people passing the statue to get their opinion. Georgia Lepper. Picture: Sally Patterson

He said: “She doesn’t come across as intellectual. It looks like a man drew a representation of a woman, and put a feminist label on top.”

Twenty-four-year-old music curator Isaac Hyman, who recently moved round the corner from the green, added: “I get why people are upset, having a tiny silver naked lady on the top is a bit of an insult.”

Martin Jennings’ design for the memorial was also shortlisted, and felt it should have portrayed Mary Wollstonecraft herself.

He told the Gazette: “She was an extraordinarily determined person. I wanted to communicate the energy with which she defied the conventional expectations of women’s lives and the intellectual clarity with which she articulated alternatives.”

The Gazette spoke to people passing the statue to get their opinion. Issac Hyman. Picture: Sally PattersonThe Gazette spoke to people passing the statue to get their opinion. Issac Hyman. Picture: Sally Patterson

Civil servant Martin Lynch, 57, told the Gazette: “It has stimulated debate, for better or worse, she’s big news now.”

His friend Jim Harrison, 61, added: “It looks like when people find an ants nest and pour aluminium down it to solidify.”

However, others were glad the statue had generated debate and brought people to the area.

Islington’s Cllr Jenny Kay (Lab, Mildmay) said: “Mary was a very radical thinker, who led a radical life.

The Gazette spoke to people passing the statue to get their opinion. Issac Hyman. Picture: Sally PattersonThe Gazette spoke to people passing the statue to get their opinion. Issac Hyman. Picture: Sally Patterson

“I’m glad so many are finding out about her and about Newington Green. Our local shops are getting a much-needed boost, long may it continue.”

Video producer Nick Middleton, 33, also approved of the crowds, which gathered to read Wollstoncrafts’ quotes.

He said: “I don’t like the aesthetic of it, but public art should engage people in a conversation.”

American Georgia Lepper, 78, who has lived in Stoke Newington for 40 years, said: “I think it’s an evocative conceptual piece- it looks like a birth canal.”


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