Recently the subject of women’s statues or rather the absence of them (99.8% of named statues in European cities are of men) was raised in British political debate and some suggestions have been made to redress this imbalance. This seems a good moment to think about the nature of the memorial, to find the women who have been remembered and by implication, those who have not. My project is a pilgrimage to monuments of women, a journey of discovery, collection, memory and activism, intervention and interaction. For Glorious Oblivion I will photograph monuments to rulers and politicians, wives and lovers, scientists and artists. I will also include some notable ‘symbolic’ women, which make up the vast majority of female statues.
Figurative statues have a special place in the imagination, being objects that are almost alive, that give us a sense of presence that can induce superstitious beliefs and rituals. Julia of Verona for example, a bronze sited in Verona and in Munich, has a shiny right breast from all the people who touch it, wishing to meet the love of their life, which she is said to be able to facilitate. St Elizabeth’s feet had to be protected from worshippers to Budapest cathedral, because women were kissing them, wishing to be released from unhappy marriages. Figurative statues are imbued with special significance in culture and society and who we memorialise and where, is very significant.
What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others. If Pericles' words are to be believed women's near absence from public spaces and historic records should not be of great concern. But there are real consequences to telling only half a story, to practice as a society selective cultural amnesia. Great thoughts, ideas and works sink into oblivion, without fanfare and are eventually irretrievably lost. Frank Wedekind wrote that memorials are not there to benefit the dead but the living. Who we choose to cast in stone speaks about what we value and want to be remembered for.
I have been creating images of monuments and statues in an ongoing series called Monumental Misconceptions since 2010. For this projects I will travel around Europe creating photographs on large format sheet film. From the great queens to the symbolic figures of justice and creativity in Paris and Prague and the monumental Mother Russia, to the small hidden busts and figures who have been memorialised for being involved in social justice and change, in art and music. I want to discover the images of women different European cities have chosen to hew in stone, the roles, the characters, the ages and styles. My projects with monuments often highlight the absence of female figures, in the landscapes of the city, in Socialist statues in Budapest and Riga and in the aristocratic traditions of the Prussians. Women barely ever made it into effigies. Searching out these statues is a study of the image of women in different geopolitical and social contexts, but is also a journey through artistic styles and ideals.
The project will result in an exhibition of prints and a book publication and will be produced over a period of two years. Should you want to draw my attention to a statue or statues in your city, please send an email, ideally with an image and an exact location and I will try to make it there. There are many ways in which you can support this project should you wish to. You can buy one of the special editioned prints, you can pre-order the book or you can reserve a work from the project in the form of a commission. Get in touch if you would like to discuss it further.
Julia of Verona
c-print, 50 x 25cm, edition 10, mounted and framed