Queen Victoria is ‘not amused’ by gagging in Wakefield

Artists Sophie Ernst's Silent Empress on Qyeen Victoria. Picture courtesy of Denis Lofthouse
Artists Sophie Ernst's Silent Empress on Qyeen Victoria. Picture courtesy of Denis Lofthouse

THE public and Wakefield Council were not amused when an artist strapped a megaphone to the face of Queen Victoria’s statue in the city centre.

The temporary audio art installation featured a loudhailer, secured by gaffer tape, spouting the speeches of eminent politicians to highlight the history of the British Empire.

International artist Sophie Ernst had apparently been given permission by Wakefield Council for her Silent Empress artwork in Castrop-Rauxel Square after working closely with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Her art was supposed to be up for six days but lasted only a few hours on Tuesday after council chiefs and the public objected to the “inappropriate” artwork.

Darren Ledger, of Active Solutions recruitment firm on nearby Rishworth Street, said: “I thought it was an odd, bizarre and ludicrous thing to do.”

And solicitor Denis Lofthouse, who was working at the nearby court house, branded it an insult to Queen Victoria and the current monarch.

He said: “This is disrespectful, especially disrespectful in the Diamond Jubilee Year of Queen Elizabeth II. I thought ‘this is not art’ and I’m aware of people who have been prosecuted for doing less to public statues and amenities. The statue in its original form is outstanding visually.”

But artist Sophie Ernst, from Holland, defended her work, which featured an audio monologue of speeches by Queen Victoria, and politicians such as Gladstone, Churchill and Tony Blair.

She said: “We put the megaphone in front of her mouth so she could be heard. That’s what we wanted, another voice to be heard. We did it around the sculpture with gaffer tape so it wouldn’t damage the statue.”

A spokesman for Wakefield Council said: “We had agreed that an installation could go up and to some speakers on the statue. But we weren’t aware, until we saw it, that this included a megaphone and gaffer tape.

“Once we were aware of the megaphone we asked for it to be removed immediately as we felt that it was inappropriate to the statue and was likely to be seen as disrespectful.”

A spokesman for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park said: “After listening to the concerns of residents and members of the council, we decided to remove the installation immediately.

“Neither the artist nor Yorkshire Sculpture Park intended any offence to the residents of Wakefield or to disrespect the memory of Queen Victoria.

“Rather the project built on Ernst’s work at YSP and hoped to raise awareness of this history of the British Empire and its relevance to people today.”