‘She’s rebellious’: Irish actor inspires giant #MeToo sculpture

Nicola Kavanagh says statue outside English theatre ‘symbolises a really exciting change’

#MeToo Messenger: the sculpture based on Nicola Kavanagh being delivered this week. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

#MeToo Messenger: the sculpture based on Nicola Kavanagh being delivered this week. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

 

An Irish actor has inspired a giant bronze sculpture of a female figure whose strong, bold pose its maker hopes will help counter the male statues that dominate most cities, and that the #MeToo movement has made particularly relevant.

The artist Joseph Hillier modelled the 7m-high, 9.5-tonne statue on Nicola Kavanagh, who struck the pose it is based on during a rehearsal for Othello at Theatre Royal Plymouth, in southwestern England, in 2014, as she was about to spring from a crouched position. He has named it Messenger, after the role an actor plays in breathing life into the words of a writer.

“It’s amazing, absolutely incredible, really striking,” says Kavanagh, who was back in Dublin during the statue’s delivery this week, to prepare for a run of the show Riot, at Vicar Street, but returned to Devon today to unveil it. “She’s brave; she’s not afraid. She is ready for anything that comes her way. If one little girl in Plymouth or anywhere else sees her and is inspired that would be great.

“There aren’t that many statues of women, and those that are around are passive, demure or looking beautiful. She looks like she’s engaging and acting in a rebellious manner. I have two nieces. I think it’s very important that little girls and little boys see women doing things – and you can’t miss Messenger.”

#MeToo Messenger: “It’s surreal but I’m proud,” says Nicola Kavanagh. Photograph: David M Benett/Getty
#MeToo Messenger: “It’s surreal but I’m proud,” says Nicola Kavanagh. Photograph: David M Benett/Getty

The statue, billed as the largest bronze sculpture created in the UK using the ancient process of lost-wax casting, caused a stir when it arrived in Plymouth. Many agreed with those who had commissioned the piece that it was an exciting and bold statement about the creative life of the city. Some criticised it as ugly or made rude, sexist or misogynous comments about it.

“To be honest, I think some people are afraid of change,” says Kavanagh, whose role in Othello was her first after leaving Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. “Maybe men, women, humans in general are used to things being done a certain way. Something like Messenger messes with people’s perception. I think humans like to see the world in black and white, and change is scary. Messenger symbolises a really exciting change.”

She says she hopes the sculpture, so different in tone from most statues of women, will inspire children, especially girls, but accepts it is likely to remain divisive. “I think it’s going to spark a lot of conversations, and I think that’s how we change the world. Conversations in the pub or around the dinner table. Even if people don’t like her it will spark the conversation...

“It’s surreal but I’m proud,” Kavanagh says. “Statues bring communities together. So much happens under them: conversations, meetings, people propose to loved ones, people break up; lots of things happen around statues. I hope long after I die she’ll be there.” – Guardian

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