Why aren’t there more statues of women? The UK’s largest female sculpture to be unveiled in March

As with so much of the art world, the land of sculpture is distinctly stacked in favour of men.

All images courtesy of the artist

All images courtesy of the artist

While steps are being made to address that, such as last year’s unveiling of Gillian Wearing’s statue of suffragist leader and social campaigner Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square (the first in the square of a woman, and by a woman), the fact remains that of the 828 statues in the UK, only 174 of these are of women.

Now, artist and sculptor Joseph Hillier is about to address this by unveiling the UK’s largest bronze sculpture – of a woman – on 18 March.

The piece, entitled Messenger, will be installed in Plymouth, a city with many statues of male military and naval figures but as yet, no women. The piece will be a whopping one, weighing in at nine and a half tonnes with a height of seven metres (23ft) and nine metres (30ft) wide – the size of two double-decker buses.

"As a historical naval city, Plymouth is dominated by male military statues, and I wanted to redress this imbalance by presenting a strong, dynamic, contemporary woman, full of vitality and energy," says Hillier, who is said to believe that representing women in public art is vital to furthering self-belief and ambition in young women.

The sculpture is based on a split-second pose struck by an unnamed female actor during rehearsals for Othello at Theatre Royal Plymouth’s 2014 Frantic Assembly performance.

It was created using 3D scans taken from the actor and is made from over 200 bronze panels, with each section of the sculpture cast individually before being welded together by more than 30 master craftsmen.

"The title, Messenger, refers to the pivotal role the performer takes to breathe life into the words of a writer and the intent of a director," Hillier adds. "The sculpture celebrates the potential of creativity as a dynamic catalyst for change.

"This work offers a young powerful woman, a potent force, about to transform the world by her actions. The actor carries the voice of her playwright or director - she carries a message. It’s a metaphor for what great theatre does."

And if this Messenger is shouting a loud message of her own, what would she be saying? "Women are realising their power and position, the ground is shifting, art and creativity are the agents of change… these are the ideas inspiring the work, but it is also quite straightforwardly a celebration of the work of actors in the theatre," Hillier says.

"Although all that is there in my intent, I don’t want to preach. The work presents questions to ask ourselves. If I was smashing you over the head with a singular meaning this wouldn’t be art it would be propaganda. If an artwork has any life it opens some ideas up and leaves you thinking."

Joseph Hillier’s Messenger will be installed outside Theatre Royal Plymouth on 25 March.


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