LONDON — A British sculptor with a reputation for controversy has just opened a new exhibition in London — a series of nine massive sculptures showing an unborn child developing in the womb.
Marc Quinn’s exhibition is called “Evolution,” and the sculptures are in pink marble. And they are huge.
The exhibition is in the White Cube gallery which, as its name suggests, is an ultra-modern gallery, built as a giant three-story concrete cube with no windows.
It is located in the heart of London’s most expensive and exclusive district. In adjoining streets are art and antique shops selling items which are quite literally aimed at the millionaire market.
Christie’s, the world-famous auctioneer, is just nearby, as is the exclusive Fortnum & Mason store, which stands in Piccadilly opposite the Royal Academy, where all Britain’s most important art exhibitions are staged.
Quinn made his name with a statue which stood for some months on a plinth in nearby Trafalgar Square and showed a naked pregnant woman without arms or legs.
So is the current exhibition a strong pro-life statement? Yes and no.
Because of the sheer size of the sculptures, some of them look rather grotesque. Although he studied ultrasound scans and photographs of embryos in the womb, so as to be absolutely biologically accurate, some of the results do not look recognizably human simply because they have been carved on such a huge scale.
What would in reality be a tiny little human individual with slowly emerging features seems instead rather ugly and frightening.
Nevertheless, the exhibition is thought-provoking and the final two sculptures in the series strike the visitor forcefully with their clear depiction of a baby.
In each of these, the smooth pink marble enhances the beauty of the baby’s little hands and face and the result is an enchanting image of sweetness and delight.
In the final sculpture, the child is head downwards, ready for the journey through the birth canal, eyes tightly closed and legs tucked up.
“Quinn was prompted to make these works after witnessing the way many viewers reacted with repulsion to his series of figurative sculptures depicting people who are missing arms and legs” said a representative of the art gallery. “He felt the need to confront people with a direct portrayal of their own strange beginnings, the unsettling and barely recognizable shape taken by human life before birth.”
Despite its limitations, the exhibition might at least make people think about the issues concerning life and its origins. In Britain, a current parliamentary debate is raging about the status of the human embryo.
The House of Lords has already voted to allow the creation of human/animal hybrid embryos for experimental purposes, and to give lesbians the right to artificial insemination without any requirement to take into account a child’s need for a father. The government-backed plans are now going through the House of Commons.
Lord David Alton, a Catholic pro-life Member of Parliament, said: “Whether it is with the help of science — with behavioral fetologists creating windows into the womb — or a sculptor depicting the genesis of the developing child — the message is essentially the same. Both remind us that our individual beginning is at conception, day one of our lives, and that laws which deny our humanity until we are birthed are a cruel deceit.
“The British gynecologist who developed 4-D imaging of the child walking in the womb, professor Stuart Campbell, has himself been so challenged by what he has seen that he now refuses to undertake late abortions. For scientist and artist alike, seeing is believing.”
Paul Tully of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) said: “SPUC welcomes Marc Quinn’s efforts to draw attention to the pre-natal phase of human development. We hope that these impressive sculptures will encourage people interested in the arts to reflect more deeply on who the unborn child is.”
“If the exhibition and the publicity around it help people to identify more closely with the person in the womb, it will have done some good.”
He went on to note that the techniques of ultrasound, which enable the viewing of a child in the womb, have shown the wonder and significance of each stage of the baby’s development.
“But there is an appalling irony in the technology for imaging the unborn today,” Tully said. “Techniques like ultrasound are used more to help identify disabled babies in order to destroy them than to encourage wonder at our origins and respect for the unborn. Cardinal Pell, in receiving an international pro-life award in the Philippines, drew attention to this recently, citing the urgent need to inspire wonder and awe at the preciousness of human life.”
writes from London.