How a Medusa Sculpture From a Decade Ago Became #MeToo Art

Emilee Geist

When the artist Luciano Garbati made his sculpture of Medusa holding Perseus’ severed head — an inversion of the centuries-old myth — feminism was not what he had in mind. He wasn’t thinking of the #MeToo movement either: Mr. Garbati had created the work in 2008, nearly a decade before […]

When the artist Luciano Garbati made his sculpture of Medusa holding Perseus’ severed head — an inversion of the centuries-old myth — feminism was not what he had in mind.

He wasn’t thinking of the #MeToo movement either: Mr. Garbati had created the work in 2008, nearly a decade before the movement went mainstream.

Mr. Garbati, an Argentine artist with Italian roots, was inspired by a 16th-century bronze: Benvenuto Cellini’s “Perseus With the Head of Medusa.” In that work, a nude Perseus holds up Medusa’s head by her snaky mane. Mr. Garbati conceived of a sculpture that could reverse that story, imagining it from Medusa’s perspective and revealing the woman behind the monster.

On Tuesday, Mr. Garbati’s sculpture — “Medusa With the Head of Perseus” — was reimagined as a symbol of triumph for victims of sexual assault, when it was unveiled in Lower Manhattan, just across the street from the criminal courthouse on Centre Street.

But for some online commentators, the sculpture did not quite meet the moment. As news about the sculpture’s planned installation spread, activists and observers on social media wondered why a piece of art meant to honor the #MeToo movement — which was animated, in large part, by an outpouring of personal stories from women — was created by a man.

Others wondered why, if the sculpture was intended to be about sexual violence, Medusa carried the head of Perseus and not Poseidon, her rapist. And some questioned the decision to depict Medusa as a lithe, classically beautiful nude figure when she was described as a monster.

Mr. Garbati said in an interview that, by now, his sculpture had a sort of independence from him, a life of its own created by outsiders’ observations and interpretations.

“I would say I am honored by the fact that the sculpture has been chosen as a symbol,” he said. He noted how the whole project had helped him realize that he was a “product of a patriarchal society” himself.

As for the question of mythological accuracy, Mr. Garbati said his work was a direct response to Cellini’s sculpture, which depicts the story of Perseus slaying Medusa and then using her severed head as a weapon, harnessing her power of turning people to stone with her stare.

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