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Tired of Monuments Ignoring Women’s History? Now You Can Nominate Female Trailblazers for Statues in NYC

The ‘She Built NYC’ commission aims to build public monuments that properly recognize women’s contributions to the city

Harriet Tubman Memorial, New York, 2010. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Harriet Tubman Memorial, New York, 2010. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Harriet Tubman Memorial, New York, 2010. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

New York City has launched a female empowerment initiative, ‘She Built NYC’, which will commission public monuments and sculptures that properly recognize women’s history. The project argues that the existing monuments in the city are representations which ‘have historically failed to reflect the multiplicity of people that have contributed to the city throughout history.’ At the announcement of the initiative, New York City’s first lady Chirlane McCray commented: ‘Any walking tour of the five boroughs raises a big question: where are all the women?’

Supported by USD$10 million in funding from the Department of Cultural Affairs, the ’She Built NYC’ initiative is inviting nominations for pioneering women for memorialization on the Women.nyc website, with a deadline of 1 August. In consultation with the Department of Cultural Affairs, an advisory panel will decide on a monument and artist, expected to be announced in January. Those confirmed on the advisory panel include CEO of Staten Island Museum Janice Monger, co-director of the Disability/Arts/NYC Task Force Simi Linton and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s chairman of education Sandra Jackson-Dumont.

The iniative follows on from renewed debate in the US over the subjects of public monuments, ranging from white supremacist activism around Confederate memorials last summer through to issues of female representation in public sculpture. In New York, there is a pronounced lack of statues of women: the Statue of Liberty and the Fearless Girl in the Financial District are widely recognizable monuments, but the list of actual female historical statues in the city is short. At the ‘She Built NYC’ project announcement, deputy mayor Alicia Glen commented that in Central Park alone, there were ‘22 monuments to men and one to Alice in Wonderland, not even a real woman.’

The ‘She Built NYC’ initiative follows on from recommendations by the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers, set up ‘to expand the stories, histories, and narratives represented on public property in New York.’ Its report released at the beginning of the year noted that New York monuments ‘celebrate some histories and erase others.’ The commission advocated for the relocation of a statue of J Marion Sims, a 19th-century physician who carried out gynaecological experiments on black female slaves; a suggestion that was acted upon in April when The Sims monument was relocated to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, in which the doctor is buried.

In April, London unveiled a monument to the British suffragist Millicent Garrett Fawcett, by the artist Gillian Wearing: the first statue of a woman to be erected in Parliament Square. ‘In our era of easy outrage,’ Hettie Judah wrote, ‘Wearing’s monument to Fawcett feels a well-timed celebration of the power of rational engagement, unwavering belief and defiant visibility.’

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