Monday, 6 October 2014

Verity: a walk past truth and justice in North Devon

It's the annual village outing and we have left the womb-like bay of Woolacombe for a day trip around the headland to Ilfracombe.

We're walking past the harbour and then we see her, a striking figure with sword held high. A kind of modern-day Statue of Liberty looking out across the Atlantic from this pretty and quirky seaside town in North Devon.
I've been out of the loop for a while, what with living abroad. But when someone said there was a Damien Hirst statue here, I didn't really know what to expect. A giant skull made of crystal, perhaps, or a cow pickled in formaldehyde

But from here, the statue looks beautiful. It's clear from this angle that she's pregnant, controversial for some perhaps (but not to me, power to the sisterhood and all that) but so far so good.

She gets better as we draw closer. The scales of justice are tucked behind her backside and the skin on her right leg is peeling off, so she looks like she's wearing one thigh-high boot.
She strides, Egyptian-style, across great big law books and against a backdrop of an autumn sky.
And this is the point where the jaw begins to drop and people walking beside me are either silent, saying 'ugh' or 'what's all that about?'

I begin to notice not only the muscles in her skin, but a womb exposed to the elements with a curled-up foetus inside. And then I look up at her face, and see half of it is pared to the skull.

The positioning of this statue is brilliant. As I walk down past it, the woman looms even bigger in my field of vision, making the shock even greater. 

We stand open-mouthed, wondering what to make of it. Is it as repulsive or horrible as the men in our party say it is? Or is it as interesting as the women in our party think?
The 66ft bronze colossus provokes a response. It's clearly to do with truth and justice, but is there more to it than that? Is it an anti-abortion statement (we don't think so), a call to look at what lies beneath or a representation of Margaret Thatcher, sword held high but scales of justice hidden (and someone suggests there is another foetus, perhaps, curled up on her left hand side, Carol or Mark)? 

Or are the controversial bits there just for the shock factor, to get people talking about it?

The statue, which I later learn is called Verity, a name so loved by the Puritans because it means 'truth', has divided opinion in Ilfracombe.

Personally, I found her fascinating. It transpires that Hirst, who lives locally and has a cafe in the town, has given Verity to Ilfracombe on a twenty-year loan.
As we sit down outside Hirst's cafe, having a coffee and discussing the merits or otherwise of this strange statue, a bearded old man leans over to talk to us.

In a Devon accent as thick as one of my mother's scones, he says: 'When Verity gives birth, my doctor tells me I have to go in for a DNA test...'
And then he sits back down again and gazes wistfully out to Verity and to the sea beyond, a Captain Cat for the modern age.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x


  1. This peeling back of skin to reveal muscles and internal organs is quite a 'thing' with Damien Hirst. I've seen a couple of them at Chatsworth - and to be honest they're not my kind of thing!


A horror film for Halloween

On Halloween, I head out under the cover of darkness, a tub of sweets by the front door for young trick or treaters on the prowl with their ...