An actor who was the inspiration behind a giant bronze sculpture of a female figure has described her sense of awe at the scale of the piece, and suggested crude criticism of it may be fuelled by fear of the unknown.
Nicola Kavanagh said she found the 7-metre-high, 9.5-tonne statue, Messenger, which was delivered in suitably dramatic fashion to the Theatre Royal Plymouth this week, striking and beautiful.
She told the Guardian she hoped the strong, bold pose – so different in tone to most statues of women in the UK – would inspire children, especially girls, but accepted it was likely to remain divisive.
“It’s amazing, absolutely incredible, really striking,” said Kavanagh. “She’s brave, she’s not afraid. She is ready for anything that comes her way. If one little girl in Plymouth or anywhere else sees her and is inspired that would be great.
“There aren’t that many statues of women and those that are around are passive, demure or looking beautiful. She looks like she’s engaging and acting in a rebellious manner. I have two nieces, I think it’s very important that little girls and little boys see women doing things – and you can’t miss Messenger.”
Photograph: David M Benett/Getty Images
The statue, billed as the largest bronze sculpture created in the UK using the ancient process of lost-wax casting, caused a stir when it arrived in Plymouth.
Many agreed with those who had commissioned the piece that it was an exciting and bold statement about the creative life of the Devon city. Some criticised it as ugly or made rude, sexist or misogynous comments about it.
Its creator, the Cornish artist Joseph Hillier, said he felt it was important the sculpture was of a woman to counter the many male statues that dominate in Plymouth and other cities, and that the #MeToo movement had made it all the more relevant.
“To be honest, I think some people are afraid of change,” said Kavanagh. “Maybe men, women, humans in general are used to things being done a certain way. Something like Messenger messes with people’s perception, I think humans like to see the world in black and white, and change is scary. Messenger symbolises a really exciting change.
“I think it’s going to spark a lot of conversations and I think that’s how we change the world. Conversations in the pub or around the dinner table. Even if people don’t like her it will spark the conversation.”
Messenger is based on a pose struck by Kavanagh during a rehearsal for Othello at the Plymouth theatre in 2014, as she was about to spring from a crouched position. The title refers to the role an actor plays in breathing life into the words of a writer.
It was the Irish actor and singer’s first role after leaving Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. “We were doing an ensemble piece, a fight scene,” she said. “It was very dark, we were running and sprinting. I had just jumped over a wall and kind of landed to see what was going on. Am I in danger, am I safe? And then springing off, running away or running towards something, not knowing what is coming next.”
While Messenger was arriving in Plymouth, Kavanagh was in Dublin preparing for a run of the show RIOT but was back in Devon on Friday to officially unveil Messenger.
“It’s surreal but I’m proud,” she said. “Statues bring communities together. So much happens under them: conversations, meetings, people propose to loved ones, people break up, lots of things happen around statues. I hope long after I die she’ll be there.”