The Belly of the South

Mail on Sunday

It will be Devon’s answer to the Angel Of The North: a giant statue of a naked pregnant woman holding a sword above her head.

The monumental sculpture – which is a full ten inches higher than its 66ft North East counterpart – is  the brainchild of controversial artist Damien Hirst, who wants to erect it in a car park at Ilfracombe harbour.

Hirst, who lives in a £3.5 million farmhouse just outside the resort, has told local councillors they can have the statue on loan for 20 years if they grant him the necessary planning permission.

Hirst’s idea for an ‘Angel of the West’ has already divided opinion and some residents in the town, which is a teenage pregnancy blackspot, have instead dubbed it ‘The Belly of the South’.

But the proposal is expected to be given the go-ahead by councillors convinced it will attract hundreds of thousands of visitors.

It would also be a boon for Hirst’s restaurant, 11 The Quay, which is just 100 yards from the proposed site.

Planners will make their decision in September, and the sculpture, which currently exists in three sections, could be in place two months later.

Councillor Mike Edmunds said: ‘We have got to find new ways of attracting visitors.

‘We are lucky to have an artist of Damien’s stature in the area and we want to start rebranding the town in the area of the arts rather than as just a traditional resort.’

 Another councillor, Philip Webb, added: ‘It is going to make a big  difference to the town and the local economy.

In his back yard: Damien Hirst lives in a £3.5million farmhouse just outside Ilfracombe

‘Damien wants to make a statement and this statue certainly does that.

‘I think it’s a wonderful idea and I’d be surprised if anyone opposed it.’

The bronze finished figure, which has a stainless-steel frame, will hold a glass-fibre sword aloft and a pair of scales behind her back and stand on a plinth of law books, staring out to sea.

The scales and sword are similar to those carried by the Statue of Justice on the roof of the Old Bailey.

One local source last night said 47-year-old Hirst had added the books at the 11th hour to ensure it would be taller than Antony Gormley’s Angel Of The North, erected in 1998.

English Heritage has no objection to Hirst’s sculpture, thought to be the latest part of his Virgin Mother series, on the edge of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Historic buildings inspector Francis Kelly said: ‘This sounds like an important and thought-provoking project that would add a considerable amount of interest to Ilfracombe.’

But council planners may have reckoned without public opinion.

Bobby Davies, 69-year-old social secretary of Ilfracombe Yacht Club, said: ‘Oh, please no. Tell me they’re not really going to do this.

‘People will come to look  at it – probably to have a good laugh at our expense. Given Ilfracombe’s past problems with teenage pregnancies I can’t believe this is so in-your-face.


2 thoughts on “The Belly of the South

  1. I’ll concede, it’s an odd choice of subject for the location, but the negative view coming from the ’69 years old social secretary of the local Yacht Club’ kinda says it all… You don’t tackle a social issue like teenage pregnancy by hiding it behind closed doors and pretending it isn’t really happening. Who knows, maybe the presence of the pregnant virgin would bring the issue out in the open and be the cause of great local debate. It might even kick start something that actually tackles the real issues…i take exposure and forced realisation then resolution over hiding it as a cause of embarrassment any day.

  2. The south-west – home to the most pensioners and probably home to the least number of pregnant women. Still, after the jibe by William Shatner on Have I Got News for you about Ilfracombe’s prostitutes, the town needs all the help it can get. If it brings in just 100 extra tourists to gawp at it over its lifetime, it might be worthwhile. Personally, I think it is banal and horribly out of scale (the Little Mermaid and the Mannikin Pis do not seem to suffer from being smaller scale), but what do I know, I’m not a rich artist or a rich artist’s agent.

    I would, however, love to be a fly on the wall in the planning department when they discuss this and at the subsequent planning meeting!

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