Monday, November 23, 2009

Funky caryatid brings British Museum director out in the rain


At first it appeared to be just another tourist strolling through the grounds of the British Museum as 26-year old American graduate student Mary Phillips, the daughter of a Greek immigrant, conducted her one-woman peaceful protest appealing for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens (left).

But on closer inspection the concerned-looking middle-aged man in the pale blue crew neck sweater skulking in the background turned out to be none other than British Museum director Neil MacGregor, coming to check out the opposition (right).

It was Mary's first visit to London and she chose to spend her first Sunday in the capital standing in the freezing driving rain dressed as a caryatid, holding a panel bearing the words 'Please let me go home'.

Despite the urge to hurry into the museum to shelter from the inclement weather, many visitors instead paused to read Mary's message and take a few photographs. It's not every day you see a caryatid dressed in leggings and a pair of Doc Martens (left). But it was her appeal for the return of the Marbles that struck a chord, with many people vocalising their support and encouragement before heading into the museum.

Approached for his view of Mary's one-woman appeal, Neil MacGregor at least had the good grace to applaud her fortitude in braving the elements, calling her act "an elegant way of making her point," before shuffling back to his office.

Mary, 26, who has a degree in classical languages from the University of Pittsburgh, was born in the same year that the British Committee for the Reunification of the Marbles was founded, confirming that every generation delivers new supporters arguing for reunification.

"I recently visited the awe-inspiring Acropolis Museum in Athens," Mary said, "and saw for myself how worthy a place it is to receive back its marbles. The return of the Marbles would be a British cultural gesture of singular poignancy."

Also present on Sunday was English student and recent 'Fourth Plinthian', Sofka Smales who afterwards posed for a photo with Mary (right). Nineteen year-old Sofka used her time as part of Antony Gormley's project to promote the return of the Parthenon Marbles. "I feel really passionate about this", explained Sofka, a student at London’s Central St. Martins College. "I have always felt that the Parthenon Marbles should rightly be returned to their country of origin. Especially now that a first class museum has been built to house them."

Mary will now proceed to Athens where she may once again dress as a caryatid to generate further support for the cause.

Caryatids are supporting columns carved in the form of women, which became common in ancient Greek architecture during the early classical period.

The example (shown left) in the British Museum was looted by Lord Elgin from the Erechtheion on the Acropolis in Athens at around the same time he desecrated the Parthenon. It is not, however, included in the Greek appeal for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.

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