–Kindness can prevail in the face of war, bad geopolitics, climate chaos.
Opinion by Mathew Carr
The spirit of this statue is what’s needed in a world creaking under multiple, simultaneous crises.
It depicts Mary Seacole, the Jamaican-born nurse, whose attempt to work alongside Florence Nightingale in the 1800s was reportedly thwarted.
Located on the opposite shore of the Thames in Westminster outside the hospital that treated Boris Johnson during the pandemic, it was constructed a few years earlier using £240,000 of LIBOR banking fines.
So, it’s built on the foundations of loosely regulated capitalism.
Seacole’s story is one of stubborn determination to help humans facing almost-overwhelming hardship.
In the Crimean war from October 1853 to February 1856 between Russia and an ultimately victorious alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, the United Kingdom and Sardinia-Piedmont (Wikipedia), Seacole traveled from England to what was then Turkey to help those fighting. She’d been rejected by authorities to travel as part of the official nursing contingent.
Undaunted, she funded her own trip to Crimea, now part of Ukraine, where she established the British Hotel with Thomas Day, a relative of her husband, Edwin. The hotel provided a place of respite for sick and recovering soldiers. At the time, Mary was as well-known in Britain as Florence Nightingale. Ms Nightingale’s famous military hospital was situated hundreds of miles from the frontline in Scutari (now called Üsküdar, just outside the Turkish city of Istanbul). But Mary’s hotel near Balaclava was much closer to the fighting. Mary was able to visit the battlefield, sometimes under fire, to nurse the wounded [some say from both sides of the fighting]. Indeed, she nursed sick soldiers so kindly that they called her ‘Mother Seacole’.See this
Now, Crimea is near the center of another war, which has spurred hardship globally, hurting vulnerable and middle class people alike because of surging energy costs, food inflation and austerity born out of diverted funds that authorities erroneously claim are needed for the nasty, destructive war machine. It’s all stoked by climate chaos and leaders who largely seem devoid of Seacole’s spirit.
So the world is grappling, once again, for some kind of endgame. Can kindness win (this time)?
The statue was conceived and produced by Martin Jennings.
“…The sculpture represents her marching defiantly forward into an oncoming wind, as if confronting head-on some of the personal resistance she had constantly to battle…”
Mary Seacole was an intrepid, determined, dynamic figure, always on the go, either physically in terms of endless journeying locally or between continents, or intellectually in terms of her efforts to find remedies for the sick. The sculpture represents her marching defiantly forward into an oncoming wind, as if confronting head-on some of the personal resistance she had constantly to battle. She carries her bag of medications and poultices towards the scene of battle…
Behind the figure of Mary stands a vertical bronze disc, cast from an image of the earth on or near the site where she established the British Hotel in the Crimea. The disc performs both practical and symbolic functions.
Stonewall, no problem
The disc works symbolically in a number of ways. Not only does its startling verticality and comparative blankness communicate to the viewer that this is clearly a sculpture from our own time rather than a mere pastiche of 19th century statuary, it also works to put Mary Seacole in the context of her time and place.
Her autobiography communicates a powerful sense of place, whether in the Panamanian jungle or the fly-blown heat of the Crimean summer.
Literally I wish to bring that place to viewers of the sculpture.
The disc can also be seen as a model of the earth, over whose surface she constantly travelled, during a period when pioneering travel was in the ascendancy. As a tiny fragment of a foreign land it also hints at the pathetic nature of the dusty scraps of earth over which, in an imperialist age, so much blood was spilt.
The disc points up the essential emotional narrative of Mary Seacole’s life. In a key passage in her autobiography she describes waiting in the hallway of the Secretary at War to be accepted as an official member of the nursing team being sent to the Crimea.
When she realises that she has been stonewalled solely on account of her ethnic origin, she communicates a personal pain that can be shared by anyone who has ever been rejected merely for who they are rather than for any lack of merit. This stonewalling, which is at the heart of the racial intolerance experienced by Mary Seacole 150 years ago and indeed of all racial intolerance, is something which finds physical form in the monument.
Confronting a stone wall, Mary turns her back and marches defiantly towards her destiny and into history.See link above
Instead of fighting, help, wherever the need arises, however distant, was her motto.
Also, see this on the Stonewall Riots https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonewall_riots
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Stonewall riots, also known as the Stonewall uprising, Stonewall rebellion, or simply Stonewall, were a series of spontaneous protests by members of the gay community[note 1] in response to a police raid that began in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Lower Manhattan in New York City. Patrons of the Stonewall, other Village lesbian and gay bars, and neighborhood street people fought back when the police became violent. The riots are widely considered the watershed event that transformed the gay liberation movement and the twentieth-century fight for LGBT rights in the United States.