First Women's Monument Arrives in Central Park
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Why doesn’t public art actually represent the public? Out of Central Park’s 29 statues, none of them were of real women before this August. In the park’s 167-year history, a dog managed to be honored before a woman. This may give us the false perception that women haven’t done anything heroic like all the white men on horses with a sword at hand going into war as monotonous statues.
As part of a new project, three suffragists were chosen among the thousands of heroic women in history to be showcased in Central Park’s Literary Walk: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Sojourner Truth. This decision coincides with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, for which these women made invaluable contributions. The relevance of such an anniversary is emphasized by the fact that so far during this year’s election season, we have seen the true harm of voter suppression and the importance of voting. With this new addition, we can now appreciate, more than ever, the struggle of the suffragists to claim this constitutional right.
Monumental Women is an all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization responsible for the statue. Though it was founded in order to fund this specific statue, it aims to have a women’s history trail all through New York City and initiate the creation of female monuments all over the country after realizing the lack of female representation in monuments. President Pam Elam said, “The fact that nobody, for a long time, even noticed that women were missing in Central Park—what does that say about the invisibility of women?”
Though Stanton, Anthony, and Truth fought fiercely and broke all social and political norms to get their vote, the fight is far from over. This single monument in Central Park is a prime example, as it took seven years to simply put up. During this process, they altered the model of the statue many times, including just a year ago, to include Sojourner Truth, who will be the first black person displayed in all of Central Park. Though we still have a long way to go to make Feminism truly intersectional, the inclusion of Truth in Central Park is a small step toward that goal.
Regardless of the profuse racism at the time, all three women worked together at certain points to achieve their goals, something the sculptor, Meredith Bergmann, wanted to portray in the statue. Bergmann stated she wanted to show “women working together.” She conducted extensive research to ensure the historical accuracy of these figures, which is evident in the hidden messages of the statue, like the sunflowers on Stanton's dress, representing the pseudonym she used as a suffragist writer in order to avoid family disapproval: “Sunflower.” Bergmann’s 14-foot tall masterpiece is meant to show off all three of the suffragists’ personalities. To achieve this effect, Bergmann sculpted their faces by referencing a combination of many different photographs of the women. She wanted to capture their personalities, not just a single moment in their lives. When walking by the statue in Central Park, the huge statue of women who seem to be engaging in a conversation, not stiffly posing like the other statues around them, stand out.
The monument was unveiled on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, August 26. At the unveiling, luminaries such as former Secretary Hillary Clinton spoke about the importance of the statue and the day of its presentation: Women's Equality Day.
Monumental Women is now determined to have this monument be a turning point in the history of public arts. Elam said, “For the people who might think ‘OK, you’ve broken the bronze ceiling; good for you; now your work is done’—no, absolutely not; we are here to stay.” While the suffragists pioneered the fight for women's rights in America, today Monumental Women is pioneering female representation in public arts, and this monument in Central Park is a great start.
With everything negative happening in 2020, this statue is a beacon of hope, which will hopefully change the future of public arts not only in New York City, but also the United States. Apart from the trend of taking down statues of slave-owning Confederate “heroes,” we have finally begun to realize that it is just as important to put up new ones of real heroes, like the suffragists of Central Park.