Think of the statues and memorials in your town. How many of them honour or depict women?
Throughout the world, there are fewer sculptures celebrating women (unless you count royalty and naked ladies) than men. Isn’t it time women were immortalised and recognised more? It’s an issue that’s made headlines in Manchester recently, where currently, 16 out of 17 of the city’s statues are male. In response to this statistic, a campaign was launched to decide which remarkable Mancunian female should be remembered in a sculpture. Six finalists went to the public vote and the winner was leading Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, whose statue will be unveiled in 2019. Meanwhile, over in Sheffield, campaigners are trying to raise funds to build a monument to the many women who worked in the city’s steel factories during the wars. Things are starting to change, but for now, you’ll still have to hunt a bit harder if you’re looking for statues of and memorials to women. In honour of International Women’s Day, here are some of the greatest we found…
In the Mexican city of Tehuantepec, women dress in elaborate costumes, made famous by the artist Frida Kahlo, who is still regarded by many as a feminist icon. In 2008, Miguel Hernandez Urban made this breathtaking sculpture, which stands proudly at a lofty 22 feet at the city’s entrance. Made from galvanized sheet metal, with its delicate flounces, intricate cut-work and embroidered flowers, it’s the perfect homage to the unique, bold style of the Tehuana women.
Another 22-foot high landmark, but this one is very different to the last in many ways, perhaps most noticeably because it does not depict the figure of a woman, but rather only clothes. Unveiled by the Queen in London in 2005 (to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War), this bronze beauty is dedicated to the women of World War II. It’s a refreshing departure from traditional military sculptures, featuring the uniforms of women who worked hard for their country in the war effort, including garments that would have belonged to nurses and farmers, factory workers and those in the emergency services. The result is a poignant monument that makes us stop and think about the crucial role women played in the war effort.
Monument to The Unknown Worker
Standing in the centre of Belfast, this sculpture by Louise Walsh pays tribute to the women in history who have undertaken low-paid jobs and housework. Initially, it looks like any other statue, but take a closer look and you’ll see the clever touches added by Walsh, such as clothes-peg fingers, the typewriter and telephone – one of the women even has a colander melded to one of her buttocks. In this photograph, the monument looks even more interesting, thanks to the addition of some yarn-bombing passers-by.
Sitting pensively in Bryant Park, Manhattan, Gertrude Stein looks relaxed and thoughtful. Located just near the New York Public Library, she’s in the perfect place for a woman so closely linked to literature and the arts. Installed in 1992, she was the first American woman to be immortalised by a sculpture in a New York park. Cast in bronze from an original model by Jo Davidson, the writer looks right at home.
Marching even though she’s standing still, artist Alison Saar’s depiction of Harriet Tubman perfectly captures the abolitionist’s strength and courage. An escapee of slavery, Tubman went on to rescue around seventy people from the cruel clutches of slavery, using a secret network of activists and safe-houses called the Underground Railroad. As if that wasn’t brave enough, Harriet went on to become a leading figure in the fight for women’s suffrage. It’s fitting, then, that she’s been immortalised in this unmissable monument at a busy junction in New York’s Harlem district.
Joan of Arc
Glimmering in gilded bronze in the centre of Paris, this girl atop her horse is one of France’s most recognisable statues. It has stood proudly in the bustle of the French capital since 1874 and still looks dazzlingly fresh. The stunning sculpture pays tribute to Joan of Arc, who was burnt at the stake for heresy, later found to be innocent, and made a martyr.
Woman of Words
Located in Wellington, New Zealand, this statement sculpture by Virginia King really makes a point. It’s dedicated to Catherine Mansfield, who always maintained that she wanted to be known firstly as a writer, secondly as a woman. King’s response? To carefully laser-cut quotes from Mansfield’s work into the stainless steel sheet metal. At night, the statue is lit up from within, becoming a literary lantern. Surely Mansfield would have approved of that.
The Famous Five
In 1927, The Famous Five, often also known as the Valiant Five, asked the Supreme Court of Canada a very important question: “Does the word ‘Persons’ in Section 24 of the British North America Act include female persons?” By this, the women meant that they wanted to know whether a woman would be eligible to run for Senate. The answer? That women could not be considered ‘persons’ in this context. Thankfully, that decision was overruled the following year, marking a ground-breaking moment in women’s rights. The Famous Five: Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise Crummy McKinney, Emily Murphy, Nellie Mooney McClung and Irene Marryat Parlby are now immortalised in bronze. In both Calgary and Ottawa, the Women are Persons! statue, by Barbara Paterson, depicts all five of the women. Henrietta Muir Edwards and Louise Crummy McKinney are shown in the section above.
When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus for a white person in 1955 Alabama, she may have got arrested, but she also became an emblem of the Civil Rights Movement and the fight against racial inequality. It’s fitting, then, that today her statue sits proudly and steadfastly, as if on that bus, in the National Statuary Hall of the United States Capitol Building.
At just fifteen, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head for promoting education for girls. In the part of Pakistan where she was living at the time, the Taliban ruled and school was banned for girls. Incredibly, Malala survived and went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. So inspired was new sculptor Mary Ann Grainger, from Canada, that she made this beautiful bust of Malala, engraved with two of her most moving quotes: “Let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons,” and “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” Mary Ann hopes to be able to install replicas of the statue in school libraries. Have we missed any off the list? Let us know your favourite monuments to women and happy International Women’s Day!