London students seek to block ‘phallic’ Gormley sculpture

1 min read
Imperial College London signage on Exhibition Road. Source: Imperial College London

Students at London’s Imperial College are seeking to block the installation on their campus of a sculpture by British artist Antony Gormley, condemning it on Wednesday as “phallic”.

Imperial College is set to install the six-metre (20-foot) high steel sculpture called ALERT this summer, a gift from an alumnus, Malaysian private equity firm founder Brahmal Vasudevan.

Members of the college’s student union have submitted a motion saying students should have been consulted over the statue, which they say is “interpreted by many as phallic” and could be seen as “exclusionary”.

The steel blocks stacked on top of each other are meant to look like a human figure squatting but the students’ motion includes a diagram of the sculpture, arguing it could be seen as a “standing man with a large penis”.

Such an interpretation is “more obvious”, the motion says.

The artist however says on the university’s website that the figure is “balancing on the balls of the feet while squatting on its haunches” and “the attitude of this sculpture is alive, alert, awake”.

Gormley is perhaps best known for his gigantic “Angel of the North” sculpture in northeastern England, put up in 1998. His sculptures focus on the human form.

The Art Newspaper on Wednesday quoted a student who proposed the motion as saying it received “support within the union” and has “apparently been seen by senior college staff and Gormley’s team”.

The student, who wished to remain anonymous, told the paper, however: “I doubt that it will affect the installation of ALERT.”

Imperial College’s website hails the “striking new artwork”.

The university, which focuses on science, engineering, medicine and business, had 58 percent male students in the years 2020-2021, according to its website.

British universities are now facing close scrutiny of their art collections, focusing on images that could be seen as glorifying racism and slavery.

Jesus College in Cambridge University has unsuccessfully lobbied to remove a plaque from its chapel lauding a benefactor with ties to slavery, while Oxford University has seen protests calling for the removal of a statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes. © AFP

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