In 2006, quite unexpectedly, R and I found ourselves in London for a very short few days. We took one of those hop on-hop off bus tours for a few hours. Also quite unexpectedly, as we entered Trafalgar Square, we got our first glimpse of a statue about which I would not learn the story–nor that of the woman it represents–until 2019. I think that might be one of those symbolic moments–that Alison Lapper and her story may be unknown to many people who saw this statue in the two years it occupied Fourth Plinth at Trafalgar Square. After all, it took a chance encounter with my photographs and the reminder that I never learned about the story behind the sculpture to send me on a search 13 years later.
Sculptor Marc Quinn was commissioned by the Mayor of London in 2005 to create the statue of Lapper for the Fourth Plinth–the northwest pedestal in Trafalgar Square. The fourth plinth was originally intended to hold the statue of William IV, King of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland 1830-1837. Lack of funds to complete the statue left the pedestal empty for 150 years until it was decided to use it to hold temporary exhibits, the first in 1998. Quinn’s larger than life (12 feet tall) sculpture of Lapper occupied Fourth Plinth from 2005-2007, so it was indeed mere happenstance that I would be there to observe it at all.
Given that the other statues in Trafalgar Square are of men and figures from the past, described as “public heroes,” Quinn wanted
…the placement of Alison Lapper on the Fourth Plinth as a ‘monument to the future’, celebrating ‘someone who has conquered their own circumstances, rather than someone who has conquered the outside world’. (from marcquinn.com/artworks/alison-lapper)
Quinn’s original sculpture of Lapper was done in 2000 when she was 8 months pregnant, followed later that year with one of Lapper and her son. He made several of Lapper between 2000 and 2012. Alison Lapper is an artist, television personality, public speaker. Quinn’s newest exhibition opens in 2021 on the steps of the New York Public Library.