Alison Lapper Pregnant

Quinn, Marc

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Sculpture

Genre: Sculpture

Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler
  • Date of entry: Jan-11-2006
  • Last revised: Sep-26-2013


Alison Lapper is a friend of the sculptor, and a painter herself, who was born with phocomelia (defined in Stedman’s Medical Dictionary as a defective development of arms, legs or both, so that the hands and feet are attached close to the body, resembling the flippers of a seal). As suggested by the title, the 11 foot, 6 inch sculpture in Carrera Marble shows Lapper naked and pregnant, her severely shortened limbs apparent to all.

Her body, with her heavily pregnant belly, is exposed and elevated in milky marble, subject to the stares of passersby, as well as the elements and pigeons. Its formidable mass, the creamy marble, and the dignified composition support the contention that it celebrates a woman’s pregnancy, her health and her sexuality in the context of a society and a tradition that would rarely assign these values to someone so obviously "disabled".


The piece and its original position in Tralfagar Square generated controversy. Some dismissed it as a manifestation of political correctness. Such an accusation ascribes to the piece a political agenda by intuiting the author’s intent while not quite conceding that the mere representation of a body can make a potent sociopolitical comment. Assigning the concept of political correctness to a statue in this way seems to be a way of avoiding discussion of the object itself: it would be very difficult, or discomfiting, to explain why this sculpture is less beautiful or less erotic than a marble statue of a pregnant woman without phocomelia, without explaining the obvious differences in Alison Lapper’s body.

Indeed, the piece is unavoidably about what we choose to look at and what we choose to avert our eyes from; what we first see when we look at a body, and what we might only see with further scrutiny, and eventually what we see with familiarity. The overtly political concerns may well be put to rest when the piece is moved out of the centre of London and into a museum somewhere: then, the context may change, and this piece will be better compared to the other famous models without fully formed arms, like the Hermes of Andros or, say, Venus de Milo. In any case, this piece obtains its power less from its controversy than its imposing mass and the elegant, dignified representation of its subject.


Unveiled in September, 2005. There is a plinth at the Northwest corner of Trafalgar Square that stood empty for well over a century until it was decided that sculptors and artists should be invited to place temporary works there. Marc Quinn's Alison Lapper Pregnant will occupy the Fourth Plinth from September 2005 to April 2006.

Note: The link above is to an image of a balloon replica displayed at the 2012 Paralympics in London.

Primary Source

Trafalgar Square, London