Downtown Manhattan will soon to be the home a seven-foot-tall bronze of the gorgon Medusa. The sculpture, titled Medusa With the Head of Perseus, is by Argentine-Italian artist Luciano Garbati, and it will be installed in the park facing the New York County Criminal Court, where Harvey Weinstein stood trial. His conviction in March was celebrated as a triumph for the #MeToo movement.
On Instagram, Garbati wrote, “The place chosen is not accidental, since there they judge cases for crimes related to violence against women. We are already in the final stage working on the last details of this sculpture that became a symbol of justice for many women.”
The work reimagines Italian Renaissance artist Benvenuto Cellini’s 16th-century sculpture Perseus with the Head of Medusa, which is on display in the Piazza Della Signoria in Florence, Italy. According to ancient Greek mythology, Medusa was a maiden of the temple of Athena who was raped by Poseidon. Athena, incensed that her temple was defiled, transformed Medusa into a snake-haired gorgon whose gaze turned any onlooker to stone. With the assistance of the gods, the hero Perseus hunted and beheaded Medusa. Cellini’s iconic sculpture depicts the Greek hero Perseus standing atop Medusa’s decapitated body as he brandishes her head in victory.
Medusa With the Head of Perseus offers Medusa a twist on that mythology, depicting the gorgon displaying Perseus’s severed head. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Medusa has been reinterpreted as being symbolic of the victim-blaming suffered by rape survivors. “How can a triumph be possible if you are defeating a victim,” Garbati said in a statement.
The project was organized by the artist-led MWTH Project, in partnership with NYC Parks, and will be on view through April 30, 2021.
The announcement that the sculpture would be installed across from the court was met with heated debate online, as many lauded the symbol of justice while others questioned aspects of its creation and its look. Over the weekend, some poked fun at the work, making jokes about its lack of pubic hair, which some said ought to be snakes. Others took a more serious tack, demanding that greater scrutiny be placed on why a male artist was given such a platform for taking on such a subject. And still others claimed that the mythology had been distorted—in order for it to make sense, some said, Poseidon’s head ought to be at Medusa’s side, not Perseus’s.
The feminist activist Wagatwe Wanjuki, who has written extensively on violence against women, wrote on Twitter, “#Metoo was started by a Black woman, but a sculpture of a European character by a dude is the commentary that gets centered? Sigh.”