In New York, a representation of Medusa and Perseus is controversial

The statue of Medusa holding the head of Perseus, by artist Luciano Garbati, in New York City, October 13, 2020.

Tribute to rape victims

In North American culture, there are many references to Greco-Roman myths, embodied in particular by sculptures. In New York, Neptune, Prometheus or Atlas have, since October 13, a new neighbor. A bronze depicting Medusa has been installed at 100 Center Street in lower Manhattan. It is at this address that the New York County Criminal Court is located, an equivalent of the Assize Court.

Two meters high, the statue, created in 2008 by Argentinian artist Luciano Garbati, was chosen by the government program Art in the Parks. She should stay there until April 2021. In mythology, Medusa is first raped by Poseidon, punished by Athena, before being beheaded by Perseus. Garbati was inspired by a statue of the Florentine artist of the XVIe century Benvenuto Cellini who represented Perseus brandishing the head of Medusa. Except that in his version, it was Medusa who beheaded Perseus and holds his head in his hand. A way for him to assert that rape victims are not guilty.

Post-trial Weinstein symbol

100 Center Street is not a trivial address. It is there, in the middle of the Civic Center district, that last March, the trial of the most emblematic man of the #metoo wave, Harvey Weinstein, was held. The American producer was sentenced to twenty-three years in prison for “rape and sexual assault”. The images of the defendant arriving, using a walker, at the entrance to the court of justice went around the world. Just like those of the demonstrations of support for the victims. Many happenings and other flashmobs took place there. What justifies, in the eyes of Luciano Garbati, and Art in the Parks, the presence of the statue of Medusa.

Object of feminist criticism

In the wake of his installation on the court forecourt, many Internet users criticized the gesture. Paradoxically, the fiercest detractors come from the feminist camp. First complaint: the fact that Garbati is a man. Activist Wagatwe Wanjuki said on Twitter that #metoo having been started by a black woman, Tarana Burke, she found it shocking that the work of a white man had been chosen for a symbolic place of the feminist cause.

The statue itself is controversial: the creature, described as very ugly in Metamorphosis of Ovid, was portrayed by Garbati with a body of mannequin proportions, shaved pubis. A real sexual fantasy, denounce some feminists. Finally, even if it means changing the mythology, Garbati could have shown the severed head of the rapist Poseidon rather than that of Perseus, argued Internet users. Ironically, as the New York Times, the images of this same work had circulated a lot in 2018, at the time of the #metoo wave. Social networks had used it to illustrate offensive feminism, an article on the news site Quartz even calling it“Perfect avatar for female rage”.

Cinematic setting

Before welcoming the statue of Garbati, the New York County Criminal Court and its square were the setting for several films. Director Sidney Lumet even located a series there, the aptly named 100 Center Street (Central court in VF). The author ofA doggy afternoon and of Network, hand over the television described, for two seasons, the daily life of the court. As for the series New York, judicial police, filmed between 1990 and 2010, it takes place in the offices of the District Attorney of the New York County Criminal Court. Over the course of the twenty seasons, all kinds of miscellaneous facts have been invented by the writers. Without causing such controversy.


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