Cambridge college will have two-storey sculpture of female genitalia

Cambridge college marks 70th anniversary of first female degrees with two-storey sculpture of female genitalia

  • The bronze sculpture features a motif that can be seen as labia or an open book
  • Artist Cathy de Monchaux created the piece to mark women in education
  • Women could not get degrees from Cambridge up until 70 years ago in 1948

A bronze sculpture of a female vulva is set to stand at a Cambridge college to mark equality for women. 

The two-storey tall statue will arrive on the 70th anniversary of the first degree ceremony for the university’s women graduates.    

Cathy de Monchaux, 57, who lives in Hoxton, east London, created the artwork, named Beyond Thinking, which was inspired by the words of Virginia Woolf. 

The bronze sculpture has repeated genital motifs that can also be interpreted as an open book

The artist, who is best known for her imagery of female vulvas, designed the sculpture with a genital motif that can also be interpreted as on open book.

The Turner Prize nominee said: ‘There is a female idea there in the form of what might be labia. I felt it would be better if it was ambiguous.’


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 Woolf’s famous essay, A Room Of One’s Own, argues that young women need the same space to sit and contemplate that young male students have traditionally had.

Ms De Monchaux said: ‘The piece is about making a stand. 

Cathy de Monchaux, 57 (pictured) created the artwork, named Beyond Thinking, which was inspired by the words of Virginia Woolf

‘It is a startling fact that women did not get degrees here until 1948, so I was moved by how woefully short the history of women’s education really is.’ 

The artist says she is pleased by people’s reaction to her brand new sculpture which will be placed at the women-only Newnham College in Cambridge.

She told the Observer: ‘They are quite intrigued.’

The two-storey tall statue will arrive on the 70th anniversary of the first degree ceremony for the university’s women graduates

 Author Virgina Woolf landmark essay was based on two texts she read while studying at Newnham which is one of Oxbridge’s last remaining all-female colleges.  

Commissioned by Germaine Greer and historian Mary Beard, the sculpture will celebrate the achievements of graduates and the opening of new Dorothy Garrod building.  

Newnham’s principal, Professor Dame Carol Black, confirmed they were happy to let Ms De Monchaux use her trademark shape of vulvas.

Germaine Greer (pictured) and historian Mary Beard commissioned the sculpture which will be placed Newnham College in Cambridge

She said: ‘Once we had made the commission we gave Cathy a pretty free hand.’

Cambridge only allowed women to study in it’s college in 1869, but they were required to live 30 miles away in Hertfordshire.

In July 1998, 900 female students who studied before 1948 were invited to receive their full degrees. Up until 70 years ago they were just given certificates. 

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