First public statue of a black woman in England

// 10 October 2008

BWP.gifThis week the first ever public monument in England representing a black woman was erected in Lambeth, as part of Black History Month.

(I briefly mentioned this sculpture last month, as part of a post on the lack of statues of women.)

The Bronze Woman statue is inspired by this poem, by Cécile Nobrega, president and founder of the Bronze Woman Foundation. This project began in 1995, and the statue has just been unveiled – in Stockwell Memorial Gardens, which is in Lambeth, in South London.

The poem ‘Bronze Woman’ was written to honour the women of the Caribbean Community. It is a moving recognition of the significance of Caribbean women who despite their limited economic and political power have, on reflection set a shining example across the vertical and horizontal divisions of international society as major contributors to human development.

The Bronze Woman Website also includes a lot of information about the history of the project, the sculptors, suggested reading, who funded the project (that includes TfL and the EU).

Comments From You

Saranga // Posted 10 October 2008 at 4:49 pm

Love the statue :)

m Andrea // Posted 10 October 2008 at 5:23 pm

It’s about freaking time!

Now I want to see more…

m Andrea // Posted 10 October 2008 at 5:25 pm

Except it is sexist. Must every statue of females have a child attached, as if child care is the only thing which renders a female worthy?

frau sally benz // Posted 10 October 2008 at 8:00 pm

This is a bit weird to me… I know I’m supposed to be happy, but just looking at the statue itself (not the inscription), how exactly are you supposed to tell this black woman apart from any other woman? The fact that her hair is pulled back and wrapped? It’s kind of strange to me — am I alone in this one?

Laurel Dearing // Posted 10 October 2008 at 9:28 pm

its not sexist. its not exactly pro-feminist but theres nothing sexist about a mother and child as id imagine it has to do with the poem! i know what you mean though.

Ruth // Posted 11 October 2008 at 11:34 am

I rather like the woman with the child. Success doesn’t always have to come in a suit.

The poem is amongst other things about a woman seeking a better life for herself and an even better life for her children. I thought that was symbolised by the fact she is holding her baby up even higher than herself.

I don’t agree that it is “about time” though; it’s well, well, well overdue!

I’m also not completely sure how you’re meant to just know that it’s a black woman though; the fact brown bronze metal is used rather than white marble? I’m not sure either.

Alex T // Posted 11 October 2008 at 9:49 pm

Beautiful. Shame it’s not of a real-life woman who has actually existed, though.

laurenthelurker // Posted 11 October 2008 at 10:00 pm

I guess you could argue, though, why choose that particular element of the poem when it covers so many aspects of the women’s lives?

I have to say though I think it’s a beautiful statue. One thing I am curious of is whether the baby is a son or a daughter? I hope it’s a daughter, but I can imagine that might be too radical – a statue without ANY male presence at all? Surely not!

Bee // Posted 12 October 2008 at 6:32 pm

I’m struggling to see how a statue of a woman and child is “sexist”. I think it’s a beautiful statue. And guess what, motherhood is a hugely important part of many women’s lives.

Liz // Posted 13 October 2008 at 11:23 am

I don’t think anyone’s saying success only comes in a suit but in a society where women are still defined very much through other people, i.e. their children and partner, it would be nice to have a woman seen as an individual in her own right. I don’t really think this statue really does this.

eleanargh // Posted 13 October 2008 at 11:41 am

She really looks like a black woman to me – though I don’t know how to explain with essentialising what a black woman looks like. The child’s hair certainly does. There are more close-up pictures of her face on the website .

And agreed with Ruth – the statue is of the woman in the poem, who is a mother, and I don’t think she’s supposed to represent all women or all black women. I like it. I’m going to go and give her a hug one day.

Cara // Posted 13 October 2008 at 12:38 pm

[I’ve edited this comment – J.M.]

Hmmm. I don’t dislike the statue, in fact in itself I think it’s pretty cool. Of course Caribbean women who have been strong in the face of disadvantage are worth honouring.

And no, success doesn’t have to come in a suit.

But I can see m Andrea and Liz’s point. The thing is as Alex T said, these statues are generic women, not actual women who existed.

Similarly around Whitehall and Trafalgar Square there are countless monuments to men, but one monument to “the women of WW2” which is in fact disturbingly, disembodied women’s clothing.

Where are the statues of actual real women?

Jess McCabe // Posted 13 October 2008 at 1:24 pm

@everyone – interesting thoughts about how significant it is that this statue is of a mother and child. I think it wouldn’t have so much significance that this particular statue is of a mother, if it wasn’t the only public monument of a black woman in the country! My view is that does make problematic – not because mothers shouldn’t be recognised or memorialised (is that the verb I’m looking for?!), but because of the lack of other sorts of monument to the many and varied achievements of black women.

The answer, I suspect, is to call for more monuments to black women, rather than to criticise the folks who’ve obviously worked so hard to get this one up.

Sarah // Posted 13 October 2008 at 5:04 pm

I think Cara makes a good point about statues of individual men versus generic women. In fact the only statue honouring a named woman I can think of in London is Emmeline Pankhurst in Victoria Park, whereas in some parts of the city you can’t walk a few yards without seeing a statue of a man (kings, military commanders etc).

Compton A Nunes // Posted 14 October 2008 at 1:11 pm

AMEN!! I agree with Jess Mc Cabe’s comment, particulary the last sentence where it says, “rather than to critise the folks who’ve obviously worked so hard to get this one up” especially, “THE WOMAN” behind this great work of art Cecile. E Nobrega

naomi s // Posted 25 October 2008 at 8:40 pm

anyone else note the perky breasts and slim body? we can have representation as long as we still adhere to male created beauty standards eh? I am in New York and I found a statue of a black woman in harlem (possibly harriet tubman) representing the struggles of freedom during slavery and it was stunning but lo and behold…perky breasts and nipped in waist and wrapped hair. god forbid we be exalted for our deeds, our intellect and talent without being sexy too. and dont even mention a black womans hair au natural, much too Other.

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