The artist - Martin Jennings
www.martinjennings.com (opens in new window)
"...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. Though she would normally have worn a bonnet or straw hat and liked to sport ribbons and bright colours, these have been pared away to leave her marching bareheaded into the fray.
Behind the figure of Mary stands a vertical bronze disc, which I would cast from the earth on or near the site where she established the British Hotel in the Crimea. The disc performs both practical and symbolic functions.
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.
I also want to use the disc to point 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.
Artist Selection Panel
- Baroness Amos - Chair
- Lord Smith of Finsbury, former Secretary of State for Culture (1997-2001)
- Dr Stephen Deuchar, Director, Tate Britain
- Alexander Amosu, Business Entrepreneur
- Lady Hollick, Chair: Arts Council England, London
- Professor Elizabeth N Anionwu CBE FRCN
- Stephen McGuire, Director of Capital, Estates and Facilities Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- Andrew Barnett, Architectural Advisor, Hopkins Architects
- Philomena Davidson, The Davidson Arts Partnership
Both the figure and the disc are to be cast in bronze. The disc will be patinated a paler colour than the figure in order to enhance the shadow thrown by the illumination of the figure. The plinth will be of Cumbrian black slate laid on a raised concrete core. Cumbrian slate has in the past proven to be the most hard-wearing of indigenous stones that are also suitable for fine lettering. The lettering will be inscribed in the slate. The slate will be bordered by Portland stone around its edge.
The above is a computer generated image showing how the monument will look once installed within the grounds of St Thomas' hospital. Photo credit: Miller Hare
The full height of the monument including its plinth is 4.9m