A seven-foot sculpture of Medusa that overturns the ancient Greek myth, depicting the gorgon as an avenging victim of sexual assault holding the head of Perseus, is due to be unveiled in New York on Tuesday, across the street from the Manhattan Supreme Court, where abusers such as Harvey Weinstein have stood trial. The statue, originally created in 2008, gained widespread attention on social media in the wake of the #MeToo movement—as well as some criticism.
Created by the Argentine-Italian artist Luciano Garbati, the sculpture Medusa With The Head of Perseus, inspired by Benvenuto Cellin’s more traditional take on the legend, “questions the mythic figure’s characterization as a monster, and investigates the woman behind the myth”, according to the project’s website. “In Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Medusa was a maiden in the temple of Athena, who was stalked and raped by Poseidon. Athena, in a rage, banishes and curses Medusa with a monstrous head of snakes and a gaze which turns men to stone. Medusa is herself blamed and punished for the crime of which she was the victim; she is cast away as a monster and then with the cruel assistance of Athena and Poseidon, eventually is hunted-down and beheaded by the epic hero Perseus, who displays her head as a trophy on his shield.”
When Garbati posted a photograph of his work on social media in 2018, the image went viral. The photographer Bek Andersen collaborated with Garbati to bring his sculpture to New York that same year in a pop-up exhibition on the Bowery. The artists are now working with the NYC Parks’ Art in the Parks programme to install the work in Collect Pond Park on Centre Street for six months, from 14 October-30 April 2021. Garbati “didn’t just flip the script and put a female shape on a male experience,” Andersen told the New York Post. “He looked into the story and asked the question, ‘What would it look like if she were able to defend herself?’
Feminist theorists (see: Hélène Cixous) argue that men's retelling of Medusa narrative is driven by fear of women’s agency. This sculpture just doesn't do anything to challenge that. If anything, it reinforces a false #MeToo narrative about rage/revenge —vs. power/justice.— Anne Connell (@AnneMartinConn) October 10, 2020
But some have questioned whether a statue of a naked, idealised woman by a male artist actually embodies the power of the feminist driven #MeToo movement, or why Medusa is not holding the head of her rapist instead of Perseus. Perhaps more questionable is the project’s online shop, which is selling miniature copies of the statue for $450-$750, as well as a souvenir t-shirt or muscle tank.