Oakland’s Sigame statue belongs in a museum of early 21st century political curiosities
As the Great American War on Monuments is still raging, I would like to nominate a contender for removal. It’s not that I object to the sculpture on ideological grounds—I deplore the ideology behind socialist realism, for instance, but I admire some of the state-sponsored Soviet art despite it—but because the work in question does not transcend ideology . . . and is exceptionally ugly.
My entry is the monument to the women of the East Bay Area in Union Point Park on Oakland Estuary. For some reason the monument is called Sigame, which means “follow me” in Spanish. The artist Scott Donahue created it with the goal of celebrating the “strong women” of Oakland, and he somehow chose twenty women to represent the area.
Union Point Park is a wonder of East Bay urban planning. Back before the 2016 Ghostship fire, in which 36 party-goers perished in an illegally converted warehouse space, we were all NIMBY’s here. The tragedy was blamed on the housing shortage. The housing shortage was—and is—real, to be sure, largely because before 2016, Oakland political establishment was vehemently opposed to development, even though the market obviously demanded it. At that time, swaths of land on the Oakland waterfront were converted into parks.
After Ghostship, Oakland, and California as a whole, panicked and got busy with new construction. High rise condos are being erected all over the downtown area, but unfortunately, the infrastructure seems ill-equipped to handle this growth.
Union Point Park lies beside a small marina where a dozen or so houseboats are moored. Although the park is nowhere near a residential area, it has a playground, neatly trimmed green grass, and the aforementioned Sigame statue. Until recently, on a typical day the park has always been empty.
We’d discovered it by chance after leaving Pump-It-Up across the street and a block over, and we thought the location, with a cement factory in the background, was charmingly post-industrial. A lovely place for a lonely playdate.
We set out exploring it, and ran into Sigame, which we renamed the “Multicultural Bride of Frankenstein.” That was before “intersectionality” became a household word, and I now see the error of our ways: intersectional fits better.
There are many local historical women worthy of celebrating. For instance, the writer Gertrude Stein, architect Julia Morgan, and ballerina Isadora Duncan were all native daughters, each worthy of her own monument.
Stein, who is not commemorated by Donahue, does have one, sort of. She is well known around here for saying of Oakland that “there is no there there”—few have read anything else by her.
That phrase she coined has become symbolic of the identity crisis of a city that desperately wants to be known for something, even if that something has to be high crime rate. And so, on Shuttack Avenue at the Berkeley/Oakland border, the city of Oakland has erected the word THERE in giant letters, and Berkeley had put HERE on its side. So there is that.
One of the Sigame womanparts is a Native American girl who, according to the inscription on the bottom, was the first person in her family to learn English. I have to admit that I’m jealous. I’m not the first one in my family to learn English, so, I guess, I am not worthy of a statue, not even 1/20 of a statue.
A whole slew of grade school teachers are also represented.
Not sure on what criteria Isodora Duncan is qualified as a “strong woman.” I mean, why did she marry that alcoholic she couldn’t talk to? The alcoholic was the Russian poet Sergei Esenin, who spoke no foreign languages. Duncan knew only a couple of words in Russian, and the marriage fell apart within a year.
In any event, Jack London, Oakland’s internationally renowned native son, not only has his own monument, and his hut preserved with White Fang’s iron likeness next to it, but the entire area, frequented by tourists and locals alike, is called Jack London Square. Must patriarchy win every single time?
Apparently so.Instead of celebrating exceptional women, the City of Oakland decided to save a few dollars and melted them into a single, generalized womanfolk statue.
[Photo credit: Katya Rapoport Sedgwick]
This is identity politics personified. And, because intersectionaity was never really about women, but rather about power, the statue ended up shoved in a park never intended for human use.
The Frankenstein of Intersectionality is supposed to represent supposedly notable women of all races at once. A whole bunch of notables were selected; their names etched at the foundation. Then each of these historical figures has donated a thigh, a nose, a half a shoe, or maybe the hairline to the towering end product. These parts, in several colors and textures—because diversity?—are held together by the semblance of bulky factory clips.
The resulting effect can be considered feminist in the sense that it’s unsexy. Yet if feminism is meant to assert female agency, patriarchy has won because the sculptor has reduced the humanity and achievement of presumably extraordinary women to political correctness.
To photograph the statue was quite an ordeal. I knew that park, like much of the rest of the low-laying areas of Oakland, is now taken over by the homeless. We have the same homeless issues that are crippling other West Coast cities.
In Oakland, empty lots, parks, spaces under highways and BART tracks are all taken over by tents, shacks, and broken down cars. Formerly empty, Union Point Park is now teeming with the homeless. Yelp reviews mention a female Coat Guard member abducted and raped there. So, you see, the City of Oakland is cultivating shadow zones of extralegal housing developments, populated almost exclusively by men. Those spaces are so hostile for women, I felt uneasy stopping my car nearby. I had to take my husband with me, so the visit took us a month to plan.
And then they put a stone idol of a generic amalgam female in the middle of it. For all we know, the homeless are peeing on her now. I hope Oakland’s feminist mayor Libby Schaaf is proud of herself.
On reflection, I think somebody should remove it. Or maybe take it off its podium and put it in a museum of early 21st century political curiosities, between the Occupy trashcan and AOC’s lipstick. The statue is ugly and dehumanizing. And we shall not surrender her to the junkies. It’s not normal. #Resist!DONATE
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