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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 March, 2004, 10:37 GMT
The modern-day Venus de Milo
By Megan Lane
BBC News Online Magazine

The vacant plinth in Trafalgar Square is to be filled with a marble statue of a naked woman. Rather than aping classical sculpture, the model - Alison Lapper, born with no arms - says it is a very modern take on femininity.

The modern-day Venus
When heavily pregnant with her son, artist Alison Lapper posed naked for a sculpture which is about to take pride of place in the heart of London.

The work - entitled Alison Lapper Pregnant, by Marc Quinn - has been selected to fill the empty fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square for 18 months, the latest in a rota of sculptures for the plinth.

It is a work which celebrates all that is important to Ms Lapper - single motherhood, acceptance of disability, and her own body as a thing of beauty.

"I've explored these issues in my own work, through photography and installations, but I never would have been able to afford to do so in 15-ft high Italian marble, as Marc will be able to do with this sculpture," she says.

"I love the fact that it has got the UK talking, that it gives disability a platform for debate. It's a positive image of womanhood, even though it's not going to appeal to those who wanted the Queen Mother up there."

Classic beauty

Born in 1965 with phocomelia, a congenital condition similar to that caused by Thalidomide, Ms Lapper stands at just 3ft 11ins, having cast off the artificial limbs she wore as a child.

Alison and son Parys
Alison and son Parys
Many of her own works use light and shade to play up the body's sculptural qualities, and to draw attention to limbs that are not there.

It does not take an art historian to catch the allusion to the Venus de Milo - perhaps the best-known depiction of female beauty - in both her work and in Quinn's sculpture.

"I've labelled myself Venus de Milo in some of my works. She lost her arms; I was born without mine. Yet no-one would describe her as disabled, as they do me, even though I'm real and I can answer them back," Ms Lapper says.

"I'm very comfortable with my own body, although I never imagined it would feature in Trafalgar Square. I think it's great that such a powerful image of femininity will be in a place so associated with war and heritage."

Millennium baby

She and son Parys will be familiar to viewers of BBC One's Child of Our Time, an ongoing series in which Professor Robert Winston follows 25 children born in 2000 into adulthood.

Gallery-goers look at a model of the sculpture
A model of the sculpture on show
As with any mother and son, the pair have a strong bond - a bond which is further strengthened by being a family unit of just two, one of whom has no arms and so has to convey love, disapproval and encouragement largely through voice tone alone.

"I brought my son into the world knowing I that I would give him my love and my time. For the first nine months of his life, he was hugged against my chest the whole time - I carried him in a sling always.

"Now he's four, we're still very close. He does a lot of things for me, and because I want him to be his own person, I do a lot of special things for him."

Parys's childhood could not be more different to her own. Ms Lapper never knew her father, and her mother sent her away when she was just six weeks old. She grew up in Chailey Heritage School in east Sussex, which caters for extremely disabled children.

Alison and Parys in Child of Our Time
Hers was an unplanned - but very welcome - pregnancy
For much of her life, she believed she would be unable to bear children, having been told that she was too disabled to have a safe pregnancy.

When her belly began to swell in 1999, she encountered yet more prejudice. "When a woman gets pregnant, people usually ask things like 'boy or girl?' With me, it was 'is he going to be disabled like you?' What's wrong with people?"

It is to counter just such attitudes that Ms Lapper is proud to be immortalised in marble, and to document her family life in a major television series.

"I'm real, and I'm just out there doing it, being a single working mother. I'm proud of that. And if people can see that, so much the better."

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

This is fantastic news! I have the utmost admiration for the energy and skill Alison has to challenge and overcome disabling assumptions and prejudices pervading our society. I hope this statue serves as inspiration and encouragement for others to do the same.
Frances Metcalfe, UK

An excellent and original choice, well done London.
Kevin Pay, UK

Art should cause us to think and even argue. This must be an good work of art even before it appears on the empty plinth - because it has caused us to think and argue already.
L Anderson, UK

I am a great admirer of Ms Lapper and I think it is wonderful that her statue will be on display. I was horrified to hear some of the remarks against this yesterday on TV.
Eef, UK

This statue will be a welcome corrective to dead white men as heroes. Alison Lapper is an extraordinary person whose courage in confronting prejudice and ability with her son is an inspiration to us all. I am a new mum and I know I often think of her, and how fantastic she is.
Caitlin Scott, UK

Way to go! I can only hope more here in the US will be aware of this, and maybe, just maybe even follow suit... seeing disability as something to be proud of, and NOT ashamed of.
Adelaide, US

Many congratulations Alison, you thoroughly deserve this accolade after all of the determination and courage you have shown. I am sure that Parys will be very proud of his mum. All the best for the future.
Stephen Ash, Wales

Touching story but do we really need to have her staring down at us from Trafalgar Square. This really is a farce. Leave the plinth empty - what's wrong with a bit of air. Just more taxes wasted.
Dominic Moore, UK

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