Trafalgar Square, as you really ought to know, was built to commemorate our victory over the French in the Battle of Trafalgar. The Square was to display statues of five British heroes;
Lord Nelson (whose column stands in the centre)
Henry Havelock and Charles James Napier (two random military bigwigs, nothing to do with Trafalgar, but they were involved in various conquests in Pakistan and India)
George IV (the most unpopular monarch since Richard III, but King at the time of Trafalgar)
William IV (the most unheard-of monarch since King Gerald-The-Pepperpot, but coming to the throne when Trafalgar Square was close to completion)
Actually, I have a great affection for William IV or “Sailor Bill” because he sounds like a jolly decent chap and is the one that everyone forgets when they recite the Kings and Queens of England since 1066. But alas funding ran out and his statue was never completed. So the fourth plinth stood empty for a hundred and fifty years.
Since 1999, the Royal Society of the Arts has been commissioning contemporary work to occupy this space, usually for a year or eighteen months. Contemporary art is and always has been controversial; it is the nature of the beast. But few people are criticising the lasted work, a sculpture reminiscent of the Classical style, for it’s artistic value.
This sculpture is of Allison Lapper, a modern artist by another artist Marc Quinn. People feel scandalised by this statue because:
- She’s a woman. Any representation of the female form was going to be controversial. There are still people in this country who believe the only statues of women should be of Queen Victoria or the Virgin Mary – two characters of equal sanctity in their minds. Think about it. You know these people exist.
- She’s naked. Traditionalists would argue than neither Nelson, Havelock, Napier or George IV were ever naked at any point during their lives ever. Nudity simply isn’t the British thing to do. And remember, public nudity is a punishable offence on the grounds of causing fear and alarm.
- She’s pregnant. Ew! Pregnant! Too much information! Roughly 30,000 women lose their jobs every year because they get the ridiculous idea that it is possible to combine procreation with employment. Their heads must be full of sugar and spice instead of cerebral tissue!
- She’s disabled.
Now, if this was to be installed permanently, I think we’d have to think very hard about it, but for an eighteen month period? How can anyone argue against it? It makes an excellent choice on account of the fact;
- She’s a woman. There are very few women among the statues of London and it is only this year that we finally erected a memorial to the Women of World War II. Despite the warnings of berks like Buerk, women are underrepresented in almost every area of public life. Just look at our government, our Labour government whose cabinet consists of six women and seventeen men.
- She’s pregnant, naked and strong. I could right a thesis on the importance of this. Suffice to say British women are pretty messed up when it comes to asserting control over our own bodies and reproductive autonomy. This is a lady who made a choice. When one in four pregnancies are ending in termination and God knows how many others are being kept when they are not wanted, it’s about time the rest of us followed suit, one way or another.
- She’s disabled and beautiful. Well, you can work that one out.
I now have to recount a conversation I had about this with [...], who opts out of current affairs.
Goldfish : Someone suggested a statue of Nelson Mandela. I mean, he’s not British but he is an international hero and the fourth plinth is right outside South Africa House.
[...] : Yeah, but that would be terribly provocative.
Goldfish : Who to?
[...] : The South Africans
[...] : Well they’re not going to want a statue of Nelson Mandela sitting outside their embassy.
Goldfish: Why not? They did elect him president and everything.
[...] : Did they?
Goldfish: Yeah, ’cause like, Apartheid’s over now.
[...] :Oh right. Well then yeah, that’s a good idea I suppose.
Do you think I should bother telling him about the Berlin Wall as well?