Britain’s ‘Lesbian Pirates’ Statue: Why “Infamous Women” Of History Need To Be Celebrated Too
A revolutionary statue of two erstwhile lesbian pirates called Anne Bonny and Mary Read was recently unveiled at Britain’s Execution Dock beach. Created by artist Amanda Cotton and commissioned by audiobook company Audible, which is also planning to release a podcast dramatising the women’s lives, the statue will be moved to Burgh Island on England’s southwest Devon coast in early 2021. Subverting heteronormativity and the traditional notion of women being subservient creatures, the statue is being hailed as a homage to feminism and the queer community. However, the delayed commemoration of two such revolutionary women also opens up a larger debate over gender/sexuality biases vis-a-vis recorded histories and public art.
The “Infamous Women” Of History
An essay written by Rictor Norton cites that most of what we know today about Bonny and Read is based upon an account written by Captain Charles Johnson (possibly a pseudonym for Daniel Defoe) in A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, published in 1724, shortly after the two “infamous women” were brought to trial for piracy on the high seas. However, while literature has documented these two women, their representation through the visual medium of a statue connotes several significant things. Firstly, how society has progressed slowly, albeit surely, to be comfortable enough with the public commemoration of two ‘violent’ women in love with each other. The unveiling of such a statue speaks volumes about the world’s growing acceptance of those that have been long ‘otherised’.
In my opinion, the few women that have been immortalised in statues or other artistic/literary endeavours seem to have faced a litmus test that deemed them ‘pure’, self-sacrificing, good women – because those are the kind of women patriarchal societies like best. However, the lesbian pirates’ statue is significant for it shows that even rebellious women, who clearly subvert every traditional expectation from their gender, are being recognised and even celebrated today. As culture cultivates civilisation and vice versa, such representations become important catalysts for perpetuating inclusivity and freedom of choice for marginalised communities.
Depiction Of Women In Public Art
The lesbian pirates’ statue has been unveiled close on the heels of a major controversy that erupted over another British statue which showed Mary Wollstonecraft, the ‘mother of feminism’, in a state of nudity. Even though Maggi Hambling, the creator of the statue, deemed it to be a representation of an everywoman and not Wollstonecraft, naysayers criticised the statue for unnecessarily sexualising the feminist icon and diminishing her works on feminism. However, some of the other recent feminist memorials have been admittedly less radical. A bronze portrait of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett, unveiled in 2018 in Parliament Square, depicts her clad in long skirts and holding her banner in a non-threatening manner. Similarly, the Fearless Girl statue in London, ostensibly meant to denote female assertion, is nonetheless the depiction of a young girl, almost a child, and not a fully grown woman.
The dominant approval enjoyed by the two latter examples can be interpreted as a need for infantilising or making women appear as inoffensive as possible in public art. Amidst such wary representations, statues like that of Wollstonecraft and Anne Bonny-Mary Read bring in braver perspectives and ideas into the mainstream discourse on women and feminism.
Picture Credits: divamag.com/Hindustan Times
Tarini Gandhiok is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.