After the Fearless Girl statue challenged the Wall Street Bull on International Women’s Day in New York City, bringing joy to many (while prompting displays of Wall Street bro sexism in others), the movement of temporary sculptures bringing awareness to women’s issues has now reached Bulgaria’s capital – Sofia. In late March, seven temporary statues of anonymous women sprung up across Sofia, drawing attention to the fact that there are zero monuments of historic women in the city.
I am embarrassed to admit that I have lived in Sofia for 19 years without ever realizing that every single monument (and there are plenty of those) of a historic figure in my hometown was of a man. There is the statue of Saint Sofia (pictured above) in the city’s downtown area and there is a monument of an anonymous mother and her four children in another location in the city (so much to discuss on this alone, but I’ll leave that for a future post), but no sculptures or monuments of actual, historic women. Moreover, less than 6 percent of the memorials in the city commemorate women, and none commemorate events or people tied to the women’s rights movement.
Luckily, one artist recently took it upon herself to highlight this deficiency. Irina Tomova, aka Erka – a Bulgarian artist with a penchant for street art and a background in graffiti – designed seven temporary sculptures of women and placed them at different locations across the city on the morning of March 22nd (a slide show of the sculptures can be found here). The project was called Monument #1 symbolizing, of course, the fact that the first female monument in Sofia is yet to be built. The sculptures were removed last week and are now being displayed in a Sofia gallery. After the display, they will be auctioned, with the proceeds going towards the financing of the first permanent monument of a woman in Bulgaria’s capital.
Although the temporary statues are self-portraits of Erka herself, each of them was left without a name – presumably in a nod to the average woman who has been underrepresented throughout history. The author described her decision to design the statues after her own image as “a strong, personal, public stance as a contemporary woman and artist” and an attempt to “give women what they are entitled to but have been denied for decades – a place, visibility and recognition.”
With their bright colors, the statues have a pop-art quality, though they are also fashioned after the traditional Soviet-style bust monuments that are often seen across Bulgaria. The combination of these two styles conveys the urge to take and mold the status quo (i.e. male) representation of history, stepping away from its traditional shades and faces.
It seems that the lack of female representation in public sculptures is plaguing not only Sofia – there is a gender gap in monuments and sculptures across the U.S. as well. For instance, there are only five statues of women in all of New York City and none of the 23 statues in Central Park are of women – something this campaign is trying to change. Even when there are sculptures of women, they rarely commemorate real, historic figures, often representing fictional, spiritual or anonymous women (such as the aforementioned anonymous mother in Sofia). So there is certainly some monumental work to be done in our acknowledgement of women’s role in history.