Artist Maggi Hambling and her sculpture celebrating Mary Wollstonecraft.
Photographs: Mary on the Green

After witnessing months of protests over the retention of a slaver statue at a local museum, Hackney is set to welcome a tribute to a historical figure deserving of commemoration.

Over ten years since campaigners first hit upon the idea, Mary Wollstonecraft, foremother of feminism, educational pioneer and an early champion of human rights, will be recognised publicly at Newington Green, close to where she once lived and worked.

Renowned artist Maggi Hambling’s sculpture, which personifies Wollstonecraft’s spirit rather than depicting her as an individual, will be unveiled tomorrow evening in a live-streamed online event.

Hambling, whose concept was picked by a judging panel in 2018 from a shortlist put forward by campaigners, said: “This sculpture encourages a visual conversation with the obstacles Wollstonecraft overcame, the ideals she strived for, and what she made happen. A vital contemporary discourse for all that is still to be achieved.”

'Metaphor': Hambling's work, as installed
An impression, released in 2018, of what the sculpture will look like. Image: Mary on the Green

Wollstonecraft, who died in 1797, is widely known as the ‘mother of feminism’. Her book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, called for gender equality a century before the cause was taken up by the suffragettes, prompting Millicent Fawcett to describe her as “the leader in that battle”.

In 2010, a small group of volunteers, led by a belief that Wollstonecraft had been written out of history for too long, formed the Mary on the Green campaign to have her legacy recognised on Newington Green.

Local resident and TV presenter Anita Rani has been a supporter of the group since starring in An Amazon Stept Out, a stage production of Wollstonecraft’s life that filled Shaftesbury Avenue’s Lyric Theatre in 2019.

Rani said of the unveiling: “We’ve brought Mary Wollstonecraft right back to where she had some of her best ideas – ideas that changed the world!

“It’s unbelievable how little known she is – especially when you find out what a pioneer she was. She was someone who just never gave up, she always fought for others, she was a badass – and it cost her.

“Finally, she is getting the recognition she deserves – about time too!”

Bee Rowlatt, author, journalist and chair of Mary on the Green, added: “Wollstonecraft’s political legacy is huge – her ideas changed the world. It took courage to fight for human rights and education for all, even more so for someone of Wollstonecraft’s gender and background.

“But following her early death in childbirth her legacy was buried, in a sustained misogynistic attack. Today we are finally putting this injustice to rights.”

Over 90 per cent of London’s monuments celebrate men – set against a population of which women make up 51 per cent.

Mary on the Green hopes the memorial will be a tangible way to share Wollstonecraft’s vision and ideas, and that its physical presence will inspire young people in Hackney, Islington, Haringey and beyond.

Residents can also follow in Wollstonecraft’s footsteps around Newington Green through an app, created in Hackney, that launched earlier this year.

For more details about tomorrow’s online launch event, which will be live-streamed from 7pm, follow Mary on the Green on Twitter and Facebook

For more information about the campaign, visit maryonthegreen.org

Update: this article was amended at 13:40 on Tuesday 10 November 2020 to make clear that the sculpture design was chosen by a panel of judges from a shortlist put forward by campaigners, rather than the final design being picked solely by the campaign (follow the link to our previous story for full details).

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