Damien Hirst Sculpture To Challenge Perceptions Of Disability In London

Damien Hirst’s Charity (2002-2003), a seven metres tall sculpture will be installed next to St. Helen’s Church and opposite the Gherkin in London’s Square Mile, as part of the 2015 edition of Sculpture in the City (launching 9 July).

The monumental artwork is modelled on The Spastic’s Society (now national disability charity Scope) collection boxes from the 1960s. It opens a dialogue about disability and how our perceptions of it have changed over the years, challenging our modern notions of the ways disability can and should be represented.

Hirst’s Charity revolutionises the classical practice of elevating a noble subject, by selecting the dejected image of a disabled girl with her leg in a splint and depicting the charity box having been broken into.

Once a familiar High Street feature, the charity boxes encouraged feelings of pity towards disabled people based on images of begging and charity. Scope withdrew them in the1980s in favour of promoting positive images of disabled people.

This year Scope, which supports disabled people and their families, is one of the chosen charities of the Lord Mayor of the City of London for his Appeal, making the placement of Charity in his jurisdiction especially topical. This is not the first time that Scope and this work have crossed paths; a maquette of Charity was sold in 2004, with the proceeds donated to Scope. Hirst has several times sold works to benefit this charitable organisation.

Scope hopes that the sculpture will encourage conversations about disability in the City of London.

The charity’s polling shows that a staggering three-quarters of Londoners (77%) admit that they feel uncomfortable talking to disabled people – people in the capital are more awkward about disability than anyone else in the UK. 

40% of Londoners don’t know anyone disabled – so awareness and understanding of disability is still very low. Nearly half of Londoners (45%) admit that they have never started a conversation with a disabled person. 

Alan Gosschalk, fundraising director at Scope, says: “Charity is an iconic piece of art. It is also a symbol of changing attitudes to disability over the past fifty years, since     collection boxes like the one depicted in this sculpture were seen on high streets across the country.

This artwork highlights an outdated vision of charity and disability. However, while attitudes to disabled people have improved in this time, many people still feel awkward about disability. Not enough people know a disabled person, or know enough about disability. This can mean people worry about saying or doing the wrong thing.

Our research shows that Londoners are particularly awkward about disability. Scope’s campaign End the Awkward aims to get us all thinking about how to include disabled people more in our lives. We hope that this sculpture will encourage conversations about disability amongst people in our capital.”

Sculpture in the City is a dynamic yearly public art exhibition in the City of London, launching each summer with a new selection of contemporary art pieces placed in and around the Square Mile. Officially starting this year from the 9th of July, the exhibition will feature 14 works from internationally renowned artists including Hirst, Sigalit Landau, Bruce Beasley, and Kris Martin. In addition, an Ai Weiwei work will be installed in September to coincide with the Royal Academy’s much anticipated exhibition of this celebrated artist.

Now in its fifth year, the Sculpture in the City initiative aims to enhance our urban environment with cutting-edge contemporary works from leading artists. Set amongst London’s iconic architectural landmarks, such as Norman Foster’s Gherkin, The Leadenhall Building (aka The Cheesegrater), and the Lloyd’s building by Richard Rogers, this open-air exhibition not only enriches the workday experience of City workers but draws cultural visitors into this most ancient part of the city.

Participating artists for Sculpture in the City 2015 are: Ekkehard Altenburger (Germany); Bruce Beasley (USA); Adam Chodzko (UK); Laura Ford (UK); Damien Hirst (UK); Shan Hur (Korea); Folkert de Jong (Netherlands); Sigalit Landau (Israel); Kris Martin (Belgium); Keita Miyazaki (Japan); Tomoaki Suzuki (Japan); Xavier Veilhan (France); and Ai Weiwei (China).

Image: Damien Hirst Charity (2002-2003) Photographed by Mike Parsons © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2015                                                                             

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