The new work pays homage to Chantal Akerman, Belgian pioneer cineaste and visual artist; Andrée Blouin, pan-African political activist and member of the first democratically elected government of post-independence Congo; Patricia De Martelaere, philosopher, professor and author; Marie Popelin, the first woman doctor in Law in Belgium and key-figure in the international women’s movement; and Mathilde Schroyens, the first woman mayor of Antwerp and reformer of the city’s education system. Macuga contoured the profiles of these women and cast the outlines in rubber. The negative portraits that result from this process refer to the overwhelming absence of female figures in the collective memory and the public imaginary, and to the often invisible nature of intellectual and artistic labour and innovation.
With Figures of Absence, as the sculpture is titled, Goshka Macuga shows that the history of progress, resistance, and change can only be written –and depicted, portrayed– truthfully when it is written inclusively. Although there are many statues of religious and allegorical female figures adorning the city of Antwerp, Macuga’s new sculpture is the first ever artwork in the public space of the city dedicated to real historic women and their merits.