Who’s Afraid of the Virginia Woolf Statue? New riverside art work divides opinion – South London Information


By Molly Pavord

A new statue of literary legend Virginia Woolf on the banks of the River Thames has sparked controversy among people in the area where the writer once lived.

Sculptor Laury Dizengremel has unveiled her new statue of Virginia Woolf as part of a five-year £50,000 funding campaign and a national movement for gender equality in London’s cultural scene.

The statue overlooks the River Thames in Richmond, where Woolf lived and worked with her husband Leonard for a decade.

They lived happy lives as depicted in their journals documented at Peter Fullagar’s Virginia in Richmond.

According to an audit by Art UK, more than 20 per cent of monuments in London are dedicated to named men, while just four per cent are by women.

City Hall last year pledged a £1m funding scheme to improve diversity in the city’s public spaces, but there is still a long way to go to achieve equality in London’s arts sector.

Ms Dizengremel said: “Virginia Woolf is an iconic writer so she’s hugely inspirational.

“There are very few statues honoring successful women, as opposed to numerous statues of men, both in England and around the world.

“Any sculptor would have been thrilled to create Virginia’s statue, and a female sculptor in particular.”

The statue has caused some controversy from the Richmond Society over how it is positioned on the water.

Chairman Barry May said: “The Richmond Society supports the placement of a statue of Virginia Woolf in the city.

“She was a respected author, an icon in the feminist cause, and a famous resident.

“However, we believe that placing it on the riverbank is ill-advised, insensitive and reckless.

“She drowned herself in a river at the age of 59 after having a history of mental illness that devastated her life.

“A figure lying on a bench looking out over the water could unsettle anyone who knows their history and is in a vulnerable state of mind.”

Ms Dizengremel responded by pointing out that the statue of Woolf is in a cheerful mood at the age of 40, where she often walked her dog, and therefore bears no relation to her death at the River Ouse at the age of 59.

She said: “When we hear an Amy Winehouse song, we don’t necessarily think of her death.

“When we see Virginia sitting by the Thames with a smiling face, we remember – and rightly so – her books, which are read around the world.

“The positivity of her presence, the fact that people can sit with her and see her calm face and maybe be inspired to write their own, is what counts, not Barry May’s bright comment.”

Above: Laury Dizengremel’s statue of Virginia Woolf in Richmond (Photo: Maureen Rice)