Alison: A different kind of British hero
On Tuesday evening, twenty-six folks gathered at Whirlwind Creative
's gallery to discuss the issue of disability and the media. The event was sponsored by Lantern, Media Rights
, and the Disabilities Network of New York City
. You can read more about it here
During the evening, I mentioned the statue of Alison Lapper currently sitting on a plinth
(she's in the upper left-hand corner next to the fountain) in Trafalgar Square in London
. As you'll notice, Alison is not your usual political hero
or member of the Royal Family
, whose statues adorn that part of London. First of all, she's female, she's pregnant, and she's naked, and, as far as I know, did not subdue any enemies of Britain's centuries-long Imperial "project."
She also has no arms and has stunted legs, and, when the statue was put in Trafalgar Square it immediately generated controversy
, not least, perhaps, because people were unused to seeing disability portrayed in such monumental form. That was until somebody pointed out
that Admiral Lord Nelson
, Britain's greatest sailor, whose Column towers over Trafalgar Square, had only one eye and one arm.
Now, admittedly, Nelson "gained" his disability in battle and Alison didn't. But that only makes you realize that disabilities are a matter of perspective. Because Alison is heroic in other ways: she's heroic because she is public and because she has been lionized
by being turned into a statue. She's heroic also because society sometimes thinks of mothers and pregnancy in heroic terms. She's also heroic because she is a disabled
pregnant woman, which only makes you wonder why being disabled makes you more heroic, and whether the heroism here is not in fact tinged with pity (one of the themes of Tuesday evening's discussion) or condescension.
So Alison is many things to many people, and a cause of debate and wonder, and that's what public art should be about. As the lively and informative discussion on Tuesday also showed, the issues surrounding disability are rich and complex and we were very happy to air and debate them. Thanks to Lawrence Carter-Long
and everyone for making it such a good evening.