The Fourth Plinth was a vacant plinth in Trafalgar Square, London. Because no one could agree on a fourth permanent statue, it was decided that the fourth plinth should feature temporary art installations. The City of London now manages the initiative, via the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, which is comprised of notable arts representatives.
One of the most notable and powerful artworks commissioned for the plinth was the 3.5 metre sculpture Alison Lapper Pregnant by Marc Quinn, which was displayed from 2005–2007.
Alison Lapper, MBE, is a renowned artist and lecturer with a chromosome-related condition called phocomelia. This condition means she has short legs and no arms, and faces profound challenges and prejudices that she has fought to overcome to live as normal a life as possible.
Marc featured Alison because he felt she represented someone who has overcome their circumstances through ‘a different kind of heroism’. The statue contrasts with other statues in Trafalgar Square, which feature historical male military heroes.
Alison is naked and heavily pregnant in the sculpture, making its messages about gender even more powerful. The sculpture challenges social norms and expectations of gender, femininity, motherhood and disability. It also challenges our ideals of female beauty and physical perfection, by proudly displaying a different kind of beauty and physical form.
The sculpture gives Alison and Marc an opportunity to tell their stories through the artwork and subsequent media interviews. It brings attention to a woman who society and history wanted to forget. Alison represents a modern woman – strong, formidable and full of hope – and an inspiration to other women facing similar challenges.
The artwork was free to view in a prominent public space, and received considerable media coverage, which increased its accessibility and reach.
Marc stretched and upscaled the sculpture by allowing a large inflatable replica of it to feature at the 2012 Summer Paralympics opening ceremony. In 2013, a similar replica was displayed at the Venice Biennale, the world’s largest non-commercial art exhibition. This exposure, plus extensive international media coverage around these displays, increased the artwork’s durability, reach and impact.
Alison Lapper Pregnant was created and promoted with support from the Mayor of London’s Fourth Plinth, Arts Council England, Arup Associates, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Haran Glass, Hare Structural Engineers, Moose Foundation for the Arts, the Trafalgar Square Hilton and the Independent on Sunday. This enabled Marc to develop and display the artwork, and share his messages around gender and disability with a wide audience, to create a legacy of understanding, acceptance and long-term social change.