Women are hugely under represented in public art. Using the UK as an example, research carried out by campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez stated that out of over 900 public statues in Britain, only 158 are of lone women.
Despite exceptions, such as Queen Victoria, the most common representations of women are allegorical figures, for example representing ‘Justice’, or mythical and religious figures, such as near naked mermaids, goddesses and angels. Womanhood is thus publicly presented as abstract or illusion, objects of fantasy and projection, or vessels for announcement. This, in turn, is reflective of enduring practices to utilise women’s bodies in specific ways, including as titillation for the male gaze and as contemporary commodities for advertisements.
That women are reflected in this way and not in terms of their lives and achievements is therefore not only indicative of their erasure from public life and societal value, but negates the idea of female humanity.
Conversely, male-centric public representation endorses the idea that men alone have guided both history and culture. In fact such perceptions are so embedded that they have become virtually unquestionable norms.
For centuries in the West public art has been utilised to communicate certain messages to a vast audience in order to sanction specific values and beliefs. In terms of figurative art, this may be encoded with signs of status, worth and power. A history of mostly male-only representation therefore is itself representative of a shameful gendered hierarchy, utilising visual propaganda and ideological censorship.
The failure to represent women, half the human population, is indicative of a failure of culture.
Campaigners have highlighted such inequality, aiming to raise the public profile of women as integral to a fair and just society. Taxes from women equally fund public art, yet public representation remains inexcusably male.
Womanhood, and indeed culture itself, can only benefit from the removal of such binding perimeters.