Long-awaited memorial aims to capture spirit and strength of the ‘foremother of feminism’
The Mary on the Green campaign, which has been calling for a permanent memorial to the philosopher and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman since 2011, unanimously chose Hambling for the sculpture.
Jude Kelly, patron for the campaign and artistic director of the Southbank Centre, called Hambling, who is best known for a sculpture of Oscar Wilde in Covent Garden, “a modern legend”.
She added: “[She] is a wonderful choice to capture the spirit and strength of Wollstonecraft.”
The winning statue design, which features a figure – described as an everywoman – emerging out of organic matter, is inspired by Wollstonecraft’s claim to be “the first of a new genus”.
The plinth will feature her most famous quote: “I do not wish women to have power over men but over themselves.”
It will be erected in Newington Green, north London, which is known as the birthplace of feminism because of Wollstonecraft’s roots there.
Hambling said of the decision: “I’m really excited at the prospect of realising my idea, inspired by the trailblazer Mary Wollstonecraft. I hope the piece will act as a metaphor for the challenges women continue to face as we confront the world.”
Anna Birch, a spokeswoman for the campaign, said Hambling had been chosen after a lengthy consultation and a rigorous judging process.
She said: “There was a lot of debate but in the end it was unanimous. Given the artwork is by an international artist, I think it’s got the calibre to celebrate the contribution Wollstonecraft has made to philosophy and the emancipation of humankind.”
Birch said Hambling’s Wollstonecraft piece would be “just as spirited” as Scallop, the artist’s controversial four-metre-high steel sculpture on Aldeburgh beach dedicated to Benjamin Britten.
“We have gone for something metaphorical rather than a sculpture or portrait of her because we wanted to celebrate her spirit,” Birch said. “We’re not walking in the footsteps of the bronze male sculptures and what they do in Parliament Square. We wanted to do something different that will really attract passersby to look at it.”
Hambling was also chosen because she is so passionate about Wollstonecraft’s legacy. “She doesn’t do anything that she doesn’t love. She is completely engrossed in who Wollstonecraft was and what her contribution was.”
She added: “We know the artwork will spark a lot of discussion and attract a lot of people, which is what we really wanted.”
Wollstonecraft, who died in 1797, who has been called the original suffragette, argued that women were capable of reason – all they lacked was education – which was an outrageous opinion at the time.
She was also a prominent human rights campaigner, novelist and philosopher.
More than 4,000 people have signed a petition in support of the memorial and the campaign has garnered support from the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the London mayor Sadiq Khan.
Birch said they hoped the sculpture would soon be made and erected although they currently need to raise approximately £60,000 more for the work to begin, for which a fundraising page has been set up.