When The Bronze Woman was unveiled in a south London park in October 2008, it marked the culmination of years of a campaign started by a Guyanese-born educator, writer and poet, Cecile Nobrega. Nobrega had, 30 years before the statue was erected, written The Bronze Woman, a poem celebrating the extraordinary contributions and sacrifices made by Black women everywhere, from the dark days of the slave trade to now.
Born in Georgetown, British Guiana (present-day Guyana), Nobrega’s poem also criticized patriarchy while highlighting the tremendous role of women in Caribbean families and communities.
Ten years before the statue was unveiled, Nobrega, who had then moved to the UK, started campaigning for a monument to be created to express her verses. Nobrega was then an active trade unionist in the National Union of Teachers (NUT), campaigning against placing children, usually from racialized communities, in Educationally Subnormal Schools (ESN).
Poised to see her Bronze Woman sculpture idea come to fruition, she launched ‘The Bronze Women Project’, and with the help of OLMEC, a BME-led social enterprise charity, she raised £84,000 (now $108,000) funding and found the sculptors and a location for the statue. Sculptor Ian Walters, who created the Nelson Mandela statue in Parliament Square, designed the initial model of the statue. Following his death in August 2006, Aleix Barbat, a prize-winning sculptor, completed the project.
The Bronze Woman statue was erected in Stockwell Memorial Gardens on October 8, 2008, and it coincided with Black History Month. It also marked the 60th Anniversary of the arrival of the SS Empire Windrush to Britain (scores of its British-Caribbean passengers settled in the Stockwell area where Nobrega was) and the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.
Prominent women of Caribbean origin including Nobrega, contemporary artist Anissa Jane, Baroness Rosalind Howells OBE and entrepreneur Sonita Alleyne, OBE, stood in a circle around the statue as it was unveiled. Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC, Britain’s first woman attorney general, who performed the keynote speech, said the statue is important not only for the black community but “for all the people of the United Kingdom to acknowledge the past and the values we share; and to acknowledge how much we owe each other.”
“The Caribbean – its past, present and future – is a subject very close to my own heart and I was delighted to be part of this tremendous celebration,” she said.
Today, the 10ft high statue, which sits on a small triangle of land a three-minute walk from Stockwell train station, represents many things. Becoming the first statue of a black woman to be displayed publicly in England, The Bronze Woman symbolizes the struggles and survival of the ancestors of African-Caribbean women and the contributions of all Black women, particularly those in the Caribbean community.
Essentially, the monument serves as a tribute to the diverse communities that make up British society while celebrating womanhood. Seeing the strong image of a confident woman gazing into the eyes of a baby shows the bond between a mother and child. That bond is one of hope, telling the world that all will be well.
Though Nobrega, the brainchild of the statue, is no more, many, including her son, are proud of her legacy. “She believed that all our women are heroines striving for the upliftment of the next generation, not only the outstanding women, but ALL women were heroines,” said Bruce Nobrega of his mother.
“That’s truly how she felt.”