What does diversity look like?

seacole_photo
Photo of Mary Seacole by Maull & Company (c. 1873). Photographer’s name not known. Source: Wikimedia Commons

On top of the Brexit vote, there’s another pitched battle being waged in the UK right now—it’s over a commissioned statue of Mary Seacole (1805-1881), a recognition for her aid and service to the wounded during the Crimean War (1853-1856).

Martin Jennings’s Seacole sculpture is scheduled to be installed at St. Thomas Hospital in London later this month. Opponents say it doesn’t belong at that hallowed site where Florence Nightingale established a nursing school. The opponents double-down when accused of racism by the artist Jennings and other supporters of the monument: Seacole, they claim, wasn’t a nurse nor did she–the child of a free, black Jamaican woman and a white Scottish solider–identify as “black.”

This is a row of great proportions. In the interest of Critical Race Art History, my raised question is “What does diversity look like?”

Amy Fleming, “Sculptor Defends His Mary Seacole Statue–‘If She Was White, Would There Be This Resistance,'” THE GUARDIAN, Jun. 21, 2016

Patrick Vernon, “Rubbishing Mary Seacole Is Another Move to Hide the Contributions of Black People,” THE GUARDIAN, Jun. 21, 2016

Patrick Usborne, “Mary Seacole v. Florence Nightingale: Who Should Have the Taller Statue?” THE GUARDIAN, Jun. 20, 2016

Jonathan Jones, “So Many Causes, So Many Heroes: Why Defame Them with a Statue?” THE GUARDIAN, May 11, 2016

Sandra Gunning’s essay of 2001, “Traveling with Her Mother’s Tastes: The Negotiations of Gender, Race, and Location in WONDERFUL ADVENTURES OF MRS. SEACOLE IN MANY LANDS,” is a serious consideration of Seacole’s life and times.

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Author: Jacqueline Francis

Writer, teacher, curator, and arts consultant in San Francisco, California. Follow me on Twitter @JackieFrancisSF

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