Is the first statue of a woman in Central Park a racist representation or a good start?

January 22, 2019

Photo by Tia Richards for 6sqft

The official design of the first statue of non-fictional women in Central Park was unveiled last summer. The statue, a sculpture of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, is set to be dedicated on August 18, 2020, marking the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote nationwide. Terrific, right? Not completely. Because, as the New York Times informs us, some women’s rights advocates feel the statue doesn’t show the whole story. One complaint: Stanton and Anthony were white. Included in the statue’s design, a list of women who aided in the cause contains a significant number of African-American women. Why weren’t any of them chosen to be the face of women’s contributions to social equality?

The statue’s creation coincides with the 170th Anniversary of the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention. Born of a partnership between the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund and the park and designed by Meredith Bergmann, whose design was chosen from among 91 submissions in a competition, the statue includes text and a writing scroll listing the arguments the two women and their fellow suffragists were fighting for. Of the 22 women named in the text, seven are African-American, including Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell–icons of social activism in their own right.

Another controversial detail joins a list of objections to the choice. Anthony and Stanton co-edited a six-volume collection of writings titled “The History of Women’s Suffrage,” effectively giving them historic control of the story itself, and, some say, erasing the participation of black women in the movement.

Iconic feminist/activist Gloria Steinem added her voice to those questioning the statue’s fairness: “It is not only that it is not enough,” she told the Times, but it appears as if Anthony and Stanton “are standing on the names of these other women. I do think we cannot have a statue of two white women representing the vote for all women.”

These and other concerns were raised before the Parks Department. The reply: Sorry, it’s too late to make changes. Jonathan Kuhn, the department’s director of art and antiquities, said that although the design was still under review by a public design commission, any substantial changes “would compromise the artist’s vision.”

A more conceptual representation might have left more opportunity to show the diversity and magnitude of the suffrage movement, but the department wasn’t open to more conceptual artwork. According to the sculptor, Meredith Bergmann, “It is a very conservative place.’’ Her original design featured a digital kiosk which could have provided more context, but that feature was axed.

The (all white) women of the statue fund, for their part, are well-intentioned. Fund president Pam Elam said “The bottom line is we are committed to inclusion, but you can’t ask one statue to meet all the desires of the people who have waited so long for recognition.”

[Via NYT]


All photos by Tia Richards for 6sqft


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