While most modern viewers know Medusa as a snake-headed monster with a deadly gaze, its genesis in Greek myth has a theme that has remained tragically timeless for thousands of years: a sacrifice blamed for the sins of its attacker.
Medusa was raped by the sea god Poseidon in a temple of Athena and punished by her own goddess, says Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Athena turned Medusa into a terrible gorgon with snakes for hair and cursed eyes that could turn anyone to stone. Even during the exile, Medusa was made a victim again – hunted and beheaded by the Greek hero Perseus.
But in a 7-foot statue erected across from the New York County Criminal Court this week, the roles often shown in classical art are reversed, with a triumphant Medusa defiantly holding the head of Perseus. Founded in 2018 by an Argentine-Italian artist, Medusa With the Head of Perseus is said to have symbolized the change in gender dynamics in recent years, as the Me Too movement helped end the decades of abuse by men in power to move into the light of responsibility.
Purposely erected as part of NYC Parks’ “Art in the Parks” program to look out over a courthouse home to several high profile sexual harassment and sexual abuse trials, including Harvey Weinstein, the statue was by both the predictable misogynist also criticizes some who share the principles of Me Too. Some on social media have labeled their metaphor flawed, claiming that Medusa is killing the fake attacker, possibly suggesting that women want to retaliate against all men instead of just bringing justice to their attackers.
Feminist theorists (see: Hélène Cixous) argue that the retelling of the Medusa tale by men is driven by fear of women’s freedom of choice. This sculpture just doesn’t do anything to question that. If anything, it reinforces a #MeToo false narrative about anger / revenge – vs. Power / justice.
– Anne Connell (@AnneMartinConn) October 10, 2020
Adweek spoke to both the statue’s artist and his backer, who charged with bringing the statue to New York, about the reactions they have already seen to the statue, which will be in the city until April 30, 2021 will be exhibited.
Adweek: How did the artwork come to be found in NYC?
Bek Andersen, founder, MWTH project: I saw Luciano Garbati’s Medusa sculpture on Instagram in October 2018. The text was added to the photo of the sculpture: “Be grateful, we only want equality and no repayment.”
Within 15 minutes of seeing the painting, I had contacted an art patron and arranged funding on condition that they would produce it if we could find a place to display the bronze. With this information, I arranged a telephone meeting with Luciano that evening.
On that call, Luciano said he wanted the work to be open to the public and not hidden in a private collection. After thinking about institutions in the city, we felt that NYC Parks would be the ideal place to showcase the work. We applied for NYC Parks’ Art in the Parks program and had no idea if they would accept it, but it was our first choice and we are very excited to showcase the work on their program.
Luciano Garbati, sculptor: I was in my studio and Bek called me. We talked for an hour and a half, and it was one of the strangest conversations that led to this collaboration that made both bronze and replicas of the Medusa.
How would you describe the intent of the specific placement of the statue?
Garbati: The location is important because it is a public park and because the statue is positioned to face the doors of the New York County Criminal Courthouse at 100 Center St. in Manhattan. The sculpture explores issues of justice, so it seemed like the perfect place to place it where justice is served.