Maggi Hambling CBE is a British artist. Though principally a painter her best-known public works are the sculptures A Conversation with Oscar Wilde and A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft in London, and the 4-metre-high steel Scallop on Aldeburgh beach. All three works have attracted controversy.
Memorial to Mary Wollstonecraft
In May 2018, Hambling was chosen to create a statue commemorating Mary Wollstonecraft, the “foremother of feminism”. The Mary on the Green campaign was working to erect a permanent memorial to the philosopher and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman since 2011. It chose Hambling for the sculpture unanimously. Hambling’s design features a figure – described as an everywoman – emerging out of organic matter. It is inspired by Wollstonecraft’s claim to be “the first of a new genus”. Wollstonecraft’s famous quotation, “I do not wish women to have power over men but over themselves”, appears on the plinth.
The work, A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft, was unveiled in Newington Green, north London, on 10 November 2020, across from the Newington Green Unitarian Church, where Wollstonecraft worshipped.Newington Green is known as the birthplace of feminism because of Wollstonecraft’s roots there, and is where Wollstonecraft moved her school for girls from Islington in 1784
The sculpture sparked a backlash. British feminist author Caroline Criado Perez called it “catastrophically wrong” and said, “I honestly feel that actually this representation is insulting to [Wollstonecraft]. I can’t see her feeling happy to be represented by this naked, perfectly formed wet dream of a woman.” Hambling defended her decision, saying that “clothes would have restricted her. Statues in historic costume look like they belong to history because of their clothes. It’s crucial that she is ‘now’.” The design of the statue was in deliberate opposition to “traditional male heroic statuary” of the Victorian era, the campaigners behind it describing the figure as someone who has “evolved organically from, is supported by, and does not forget, all her predecessors.”