I sat for half an hour today watching people’s reactions to this sculpture of two seated, naked ladies.* Little children go up and touch it, unabashedly, and pose in front of it for a photo. Some children look up to it while being dragged on by Mum in a hurry. Many adults are oblivious to it as they scurry past or glance at it briefly and move on. A child is lifted up to perch on the sculptured ladies’ lap and photographed (by a veiled young Mum), and Dad joins in the picture scape with tiddler. Cheeky young men pose for the picture while they hold up the sculptured breasts. Some women do that too! Dad plays hide and seek behind them – and children laugh at the sculptured nakedness and take a second look at the bowl placed between them. Small boy pats the sculptured back. Little girl from afar calls out laughingly to her friend “I can see a bare bum!” Some young boys are embarrassed at the sight of such nakedness and shield their eyes. Two young girls in pink try to climb up without hesitation, feel the ladies’ hands before jumping off and rushing on to their next adventure. Some people stop and read the plaque longer than they spend looking at the sculptured ladies. A seven year old boy smiles at those stone ladies and back at his family. A six year old girl turns to Mum on passing: “They’re a bit funny”.
Interestingly, the faces of the sculptured ladies are quite bland: no particular expression etched on them. One of the ladies has her legs crossed – bloke style. For both of them, their breasts are too high, but their arms are posed in an open and welcoming style. They are not seated on a plinth high above passing people, but are at the same level. Seeing people’s response to this sculpture made me realise that it conveys friendliness; it is non-threatening; it is community – two women, and it encourages community. It struck me how interactive this sculpture is and disarming – nakedness in a public place.
This sculpture is set in front on the National Theatre as we experience it.** Interestingly, the National Theatre is built in the ‘Brutalist’ style whose architectural doctrine was honesty of materials and exposure of structure. It struck me that both the National Theatre and the sculptured ladies are ‘in the raw’, culturally unmediated. The material out of which the Theatre is built is not covered over or softened by paint, plaster or curves. It is as it is – form and function over aesthetics. In a sense, the sculptured ladies are also ‘in the raw’ – culturally unmediated: they are not wearing clothes that would distinguish them or denote their social standing, but rather they are in the universal and timeless mark of humanness – naked. Where the effect of the angular and sharp building constructed according to the principles of honesty and exposure is jarring, repelling and brutal, those same principles applied to a human has the effect of being soft, friendly, warm and welcoming.
For what is more welcoming than the softness of a woman’s body – the hug through which she welcomes; the suckling by means of which she sustains the future; the passion and fidelity she gifts her lover?
*London Pride, Frank Dobson 1951
**The sculpture was unveiled in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain; the National Theatre by Denys Lasun, was completed in 1976