While most modern audiences know Medusa as a snake-headed monster with a lethal gaze, her origin story in Greek myth has a theme that’s remained tragically timeless across thousands of years: a victim blamed for the sins of her attacker.
Raped by the sea god Poseidon in a Temple of Athena, Medusa was punished by her own goddess, Ovid’s Metamorphosis tells us. Athena turned Medusa into a terrifying Gorgon with snakes for hair and cursed eyes that could turn anyone to stone. Even in banishment, Medusa was victimized again—hunted down and decapitated by the Greek hero Perseus.
But in a 7-foot-tall statue being placed this week across from the New York County Criminal Court, the roles often shown in classical art are reversed, with a triumphant Medusa defiantly holding the head of Perseus. Created by an Argentine-Italian in 2018, Medusa With the Head of Perseus is intended to be a symbol of shifting gender dynamics in recent years as the Me Too movement helped shine a light of accountability on decades of abuse by men in power.
The statue, intentionally placed through the NYC Parks’ Art in the Parks program to look out at a courthouse that was the setting of several high-profile trials of sexual harassment and abuse, including against Harvey Weinstein, has drawn criticism both from the predictable misogynists but also some who share the principles of Me Too, however. Some in social media have called its metaphor flawed, saying Medusa is shown killing the wrong assailant, which might convey that women want to target all men with retribution rather than just bring justice to their attackers.
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
Adweek spoke with both the statue’s artist and his supporter who led the charge to bring the statue to New York about the responses they’ve already seen to the statue, which will be on display in the city through April 30, 2021.
Adweek: How did the artwork end up finding a home in NYC?
Bek Andersen, founder, MWTH Project: I saw Luciano Garbati’s sculpture of Medusa on Instagram in October of 2018. The photograph of the sculpture had text added to it, “Be grateful we only want equality and not payback.”
Within 15 minutes of seeing the image, I had contacted a patron of the arts and arranged funding with the condition that if we could find a place to exhibit the bronze, he would produce it. With that information, I arranged a phone meeting with Luciano for that evening.
On that call, Luciano said that he wanted the work to be available for the public and not hidden away in a private collection. After considering institutions around the city, we felt that NYC Parks would be the ideal institution to present the work. We applied to the NYC Parks’ Art in the Parks program, and had no idea if they would accept it, but it was our first choice, and we are so thrilled to be presenting the work through their program.
Luciano Garbati, sculptor: I was in my studio and Bek called me. We talked for an hour and half, and it was one of the strangest conversations and resulted in this collaboration of producing the bronze as well as replicas of Medusa.
How would you describe the intent of the statue’s specific placement?
Garbati: The location is important because it is a public park, and also because the statue is positioned to face the doors of the New York County Criminal Courthouse at 100 Centre St. in Manhattan. The sculpture explores themes of justice, so having it placed where justice is served seemed like the perfect spot.