The Simon Heng column

After all the media fuss, Marc Quinn’s statue, Alison Lapper
, was unveiled in Trafalgar Square last week. Although
looking for controversy, journalists found it difficult to persuade
anyone to say anything controversial about it. Apart from Brian
Sewell – the art critic with the plummy voice – who said it made
him want to throw up. As he also seems to think that the North is a
terrible place, we can assume that his views aren’t representative.

The worst thing that The Sun could find anyone to say was
a passerby who commented that he would rather see a statue of Tommy
Cooper on the plinth instead. Even the Daily Telegraph
called the statue “strong, capable and expectant in many senses, it
is a potent symbol of resilience and hope”.

So is it that we can now rejoice in images of disability, nudity
and pregnancy without flinching? Or is it that people flinch, but
can still appreciate the beauty in this huge piece of white marble?
Do people appreciate that they are being asked to think by opposing
images of living female disability and dead white male heroes? Or
do average Londoners feel that they are being preached at?

My guess is that most people would prefer not to look at images of
less-than-perfect subjects, but are too afraid of exposing their
prejudices by saying anything negative.

Most people, in my experience, have begun to appreciate the
disabled experience, and disabled people’s achievements, but still
find the reality of physically disabled people’s bodies slightly
repugnant, although, perhaps, interesting, in a circus freak kind
of way. These are the kinds of reactions I often get when I go

The consensus is that this statue is intended to be a talking
point. One of the points that I think we should be talking about is
that Lapper herself finds it almost impossible to sell her own work
– like the statue, images of her body which are both moving and
beautiful. Which goes to show that people of difference are still
firmly on the outside of this society.

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