Public artworks are often the centre of controversy, often over the artistic approach taken by its creator or whether public funds have been put to best use. Rarely, however, do they cause an outcry because they’re just too damn sexy for public consumption…
If it was going to happen anywhere, that a public artwork would be decried for being too salacious for public viewing, it would be Italy. In fact, they have a track record in this exact area: in 2021, another sexy statue was said to reinforce damaging sexist stereotypes…
Alas, it seems that history really is destined to repeat itself. This week, a Rubenesque mermaid statue in a small fishing village in Puglia, southern Italy, has caused a commotion after being deemed “too provocative” for public viewing.
The statue, created by students at the Luigi Rosso art school in Monopoli, was placed in a square named after the scientist Rita Levi-Montalcini and, though not yet been officially inaugurated, has already caused uproar amongst locals and around the world online.
WATCH: This isn’t Italy’s first incidence of sexy-statue scandal…
Perhaps unsurprisingly, photos taken during the statue’s installation were shared on social media, which quickly led to it becoming the target of ridicule. In response, Adolfo Marciano, the headteacher of the Luigi Rosso art school, defended the statue, saying it was a “tribute to the great majority of women who are curvy.”
He explained that his students had been tasked by the mayor of Monopoli to create several statues for the town, including one based on the theme of the sea: “The students got together and came up with the idea of a mermaid,” Marciano said. “The council was shown the scale model and said it was good, and then decided the completed sculpture would be placed in the square.”
Marciano believes the work to be “a representation of reality, in this case of the female body.” He added that the mermaid is “like a tribute to the great majority of women who are curvy, especially in our country.” Cleverly predicting an equal and opposite outcry had the proportions of the statue been inversed, he went on to add that:
“Surely it would have been very bad if we had represented a woman who was extremely skinny?”Adolfo Marciano
Others found the statue amusing but were quick to push back on the idea that it represented the reality of the female body: Tiziana Schiavarelli, an actor based in Bari, shared her “perplexity” about the artwork on Facebook, described it as having “two silicone breasts” and a “huge arse never seen before on a mermaid.”
The controversy surrounding female statues in Italy is not new. In 2021, a bronze statue in the Campania town of Sapri sparked a sexism row. The work, by the sculptor Emanuele Stifano, portrayed a woman in a transparent dress.
Intended as a tribute to La Spigolatrice di Sapri written by poet Luigi Mercantini in 1857, the statue was branded “an offence to women” shortly after being unveiled during a ceremony attended by former prime minister Giuseppe Conte.
My two cents is this: not only have artworks never been about faithfully representing real life – female or otherwise – but the mermaid has a long history of sexual appeal, often leading to the downfall of men taken in by these aquatic femme fatales.
This is just a mermaid reinvented for the age of the Kardashians and BBLs, and the artist deserves considerable credit for creating a work that not only speaks to the cultural zeitgeist but that is sure to draw eagle-eyed tourists for many years to come…