Detailing women in their natural state is an old art habit. At one time, such imagery stood for something – nobility to the Greeks, shame in the Dark Ages. Given that women’s bared bodies were rendered by male artists throughout art history, they seldom stood for more than male fantasy.

Gender apostate

But wait. Looking at recently installed monuments to women’s rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft in London and to Greek gorgon Medusa in New York, the female artist is no better at doing the honors than the male. Both statues are in a state of undress for no apparent reason, and while a male artist stripped Medusa, unaccountably, a female shaped Wollstonecraft au naturel, too.

The Wollstonecraft artist, Brit Maggie Hambling, told the Evening Standard why she memorialized Wollstonecraft in the raw: “As far as I know, she’s more or less the shape we’d all like to be.” Huh? Isn’t the monument supposed to honor this woman’s contributions? How does body image enter the picture?

Abusing the privilege

Hambling told PA Media that putting clothes on the statue would have fixed her to a time and place. Yet she also said, “It’s a sculpture about now, in her spirit.” Is Hambling referring to the same Wollstonecraft the world knows – the one who penned “Vindication of the Rights of Women,” and who famously said, “I do not wish women to have power over men but over themselves?”

Hambling’s commemoration of a woman widely known as the mother of feminism in the buff is tantamount to erecting a monument to Gloria Steinem without a stitch.

Who does that? This installation was supposed to redress the absence of monuments to women in London. One can’t help noticing that all of the notable men monumentalized in England have their clothes on.

The ultimate non-sequitur

Valentina Di Liscia, reporting for The Guardian, noted the outrage to Hambling’s work in tweets, included one from Maya Oppenheim, a correspondent for the Independent.

She said in effect that when Wollstonecraft said women should be given respect for their abilities, exposing their anatomy doesn't fit the picture.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, writing for The Guardian asks the big unanswered question. Given that all public art is decided by a committee, didn’t anyone on the committee think that paying tribute to the mother of feminism disrobed is a bad idea?

Not only did the artist get it wrong, so did the committed that approved it.

Snake eyes

As for the tribute to Medusa, sculpted by Argentine-Italian artist Luciano Garbati, its location is of some interest – across from the federal courthouse where r*pist Harvey Weinstein was convicted. Did Garbati get it wrong like Hambling for showing a woman unclothed? I vote no. Her hideous head of snakes for hair hardly calls for decorousness.

Unless you think that a sculpture of a nude female makes it art.

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