There are some statues that are quietly erected and arise few enthusiasts and naysayers. Then there are others that spawn protests, spark heated discussions and create ruckus. The latter is the case with a life-sized statue created by Swedish artist Susanna Arwin in 2015.
The statue, “The Old Woman with the Handbag,” was inspired by a famous 1985 photograph taken in Växjö, Swede by photojournalist Hans Runisson. The photo depicted a 38-year-old woman hitting a marching neo-Nazi with her pocketbook. Years later, when the artist chiseled the statue, he aged her into an older woman depicting her against a younger, more volatile male.
According to Henri Cartier-Brown, the photo captured a “decisive moment of an action” that could explicably deteriorate rapidly without effort. The photograph won the Swedish Picture of the Year in 1985 and was also voted Picture of the Century by VI magazine. But in 2015, the statue unleashed revolts, many of which led protesters to send a message by hanging handbags on other statues. The protests resulted in the statue being moved a few times until it found its current resting place in the garden of Lasse Didings Waring in Växjö, Sweden. Another statue is planned to be unveiled in Alingas in the near future.
Why the change of heart? Some people believed the statue promoted violence; even if the woman in the statue was described as elderly, it didn’t give her the righto use force against another person. But counter-protests said the statue was a representation of the weak rising up again oppression, inhumanity and bullying.
I haven’t personally visited the statue, but a friend shared it with me when she was on a river cruise. I find the statue feisty, a visual representation of the ability of women to carry a heavy load while going about their everyday business.
On a personal note, my mother always said that my pocketbook was always too cumbersome, like I was trying to fit all my worldly possessions in a rucksack. Good thing I didn’t listen to her and lighten my load because, if provoked, I could yield a strong defense.
I can’t wait to snap my picture with this amazing statue one day. As always, I’m on the side of chiseled woman who rock. Whose side are you on?