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A statue in Sapri raises eyebrows, sparks debate

A statue in Sapri raises eyebrows, sparks debate

It was meant to commemorate a historical poem, but it may turn into a symbol of sexism instead

Last weekend, ex-Prime Minister of Italy Giuseppe Conte, together with other officials, attended the unveiling of a new sculpture in the southern town of Sapri. The monument was meant to honour both a famous 19-century poem and a revolutionary event that resulted in the massacre of the country’s first anarchist thinker. In reality, however, it gained prominent attention for the sexualized depiction of the statue, which depicts a young woman dressed in a very thin and generously revealing dress.

Is it all in the eye of the beholder?

The bronze statue portrays a woman, who is the literary protagonist of the poem La Spigolatrice di Sapri (The Gleaner of Sapri), written by Luigi Mercantini. She, as the title indicates, was a gleaner (a field worker) who decided to support the revolutionary expedition after she fell in love with their leader, Carlo Pisacane (the anarchist thinker in question who died).

The revolutionary crew consisted of 300 men who decided to topple the Bourbon Monarchy conservative regime ruling in the South of Italy only to meet their untimely demise in tragic circumstances depicted in the poem.

Looking at the sculpture, however, one’s thoughts do not necessarily jump back to 19-century revolutionary Italy, but rather to the very contemporary issues around sexualization of the female body.

One of the prominent reactions came from Laura Boldrini, an Italian MP with the centre-left Democratic party, who asked on Twitter: “But how can even the institutions accept the representation of a woman as a sexualised body? Male chauvinism is one of Italy’s weaknesses.

Reportedly a group of female politicians from Palermo directly asked for the statue to be taken down as it was a humiliating affront to women and to the history that it claims to represent.

The author of the work, the sculptor Emanuele Stifano, also felt compelled to chime in defense of his creation explaining that he wanted to create dynamism to the work by showing the effect of the wind as it ripples the peasant girl’s dress. In any case, he was of the opinion that there was no point in trying to explain art to those “who absolutely only want to see depravity”.

Another member of the defending camp is the mayor of Sapri, Antonio Gentile, who has actually doubled down on the sculpture’s purpose, even putting it as the main photo on his Facebook page.

He, however, did show that it is also a question of perspective. The photos that he has chosen of the statue show its front, which looks a lot more modest than the ones that the global and social media have picked to focus on – and which show the woman’s backside and buttocks.

We continue to frame only the back of the new statue of the Spigolatrice di Sapri as if it did not have a front. Come to Sapri in order to see it well,” he wrote on his Facebook account, and threw back a challenge of his own:

I invite Laura Boldrini to organize the National Conference on sexism and gender-based violence together on 25 November in Sapri.”

Will this crisis moment turn into a spark of opportunity for the town of Sapri? Will it make the statue an anti-symbol of the toxic male gaze? Or will it all be forgotten? It remains to be seen.

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