March 9, 2017

On the Fearless Girl Statue and the Wall Street Bull

The “Fearless Girl” statue stands across from the iconic Wall Street “Charging Bull” statue, March 8, 2017, in New York City. (Credit: Business Insider)

The new sculpture opposite Wall Street’s Merrill Lynch bull got a lot of positive attention on social media yesterday. And why not? It’s a statue of a resolute young girl (not including the pussy hat) and the occasion was International Woman’s Day, marked by empowerment marches and protests against the Trump administration. Makes perfect sense, right?


On first pass, I assumed it said something about standing up to the corporate state. But then, I found the version below on Instagram and realized the sculpture had more to do with the possibility than any girl (most likely a white one from an already prosperous and well-connected family) could grow up to become a senior executive or a CEO, and sit on a dozen corporate boards like Meg Whitman or Sheryl Sandberg.

Seeing so much girl and bull in my Twitter and Instagram feeds along with all the other protest photos, I was prompted to respond accordingly:

1 percent equality? (Yes, the executive glass ceiling is a legitimate gender equality issue. At the same time, it’s a hard time to engender sympathy for Wall Street’s upper echelon given where this administration is going and the impact it will have on poor women and those in the middle class.) #Repost @guardian ・・・ A statue of a young girl has been placed in front of Wall Street’s iconic bull, to raise awareness of gender inequality and the pay gap in the corporate world. It was commissioned by US fund manager State Street to urge companies to put women on their boards. Currently one in four of the largest traded companies in the US do not have a single woman on their board. Photo: Brendan McDermid #women #internationalwomensday #gender #genderequality #economicjustice

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It wasn’t until I saw this post though that I realized how cerebral I was being:

I want to contrast the installation in Lower Manhattan with another bit of art, this example being both photographic and sculptural. (Again, you can read the background and our response in reverse order below.)

It is not exactly “Tank Man.” Still, as the wall as a political construct unfurls endlessly and is slated to physically expand, it’s significant to see a person with some cultural presence physically blocking its path. The man standing in its way is a biologist and manager of the Nature Conservancy in Brownsville, Texas. Call it a visual precedent, and an invitation for more such “interference.” #Repost @aperturefnd ・・・ “We now live in the world of “post-truth” and “alternative facts,” where much of the media is characterized by the U.S. administration as the “opposition party.” At its best the media, and especially photography, have served as credible witnesses to contemporary events, able to focus large segments of society on issues of importance. . Given, however, the diminished credibility of all news media today, what is a photographer of the journalistic persuasion to do?… Documentarians and photojournalists must learn from the strategies used by artists, cinematographers, novelists, and poets—“f/8 and be there” is hardly convincing as a strategy when some four billion people are doing the same thing, often calling into question the credibility of all imagery with uncertain standards of fairness.” —Fred Ritchin . Read more on and in “American Destiny,” available now through the link in our bio . Image: Peter van Agtmael (@pvanagtmael), “Max Pons, a biologist and manager of the Nature Conservancy in Brownsville, where the land is bisected by a border fence, Brownsville, Texas,” 2016. © the artist/Magnum Photos #AmericanDestiny #borderwall #borderfence ##border #politics #trump #immigration #texas #brownsville #resist @natureconservancy #land #humanity #opposition @aperturefound @magnumphotos

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These days, there is no shortage of issues demanding citizens and artists speak truth to power. With Trump having made Goldman Sachs the gatekeeper over the swamp, however — even if the newly-minted government financiers are all men — I have a hard time giving board room gender reform (as opposed to a singular focus on the pay gap, for example) with anywhere near the same importance as the Muslim Ban, ICE raids, or the pillaging of the EPA, HUD and the Department of Education.

Clearly, the most essential issues and symbols to focus on now are those that defend the fundamental survival of the planet and advocate for women, children and also men lacking the most basic standing, rights or visibility.

(photo 1:  Drew Angerer/Getty Images. caption: The “Fearless Girl” statue stands across from the iconic Wall Street “Charging Bull” statue, March 8, 2017, in New York City. photo 2: Business Insider.)

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Michael Shaw
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