Demon-Like Sculpture Installed Atop Historic 1896 Courthouse


When artist Shahzia Sikander was commissioned to create an exhibition with a sculpture that would sit atop the historic Appellate Division Courthouse of New York State in Manhattan, she said she felt the opportunity was “screaming for a female,” according to The Art Newspaper.

What she created to sit atop that courthouse, however, is striking for its decidedly inhuman qualities. It is even being derided by some as “satanic.”

Sikander was commissioned to create the statue by the Public Art of the University of Houston System and the Madison Square Park Conservancy, The Art Newspaper reported.

The exhibition as a whole is entitled “Havah…to breathe air, life,” and the 8-foot-tall sculpture that stands atop the courthouse — which began construction in 1896 and is in the National Register of Historic Places — is called “NOW” and was unveiled this month. There is also an augmented reality component.

Despite Sikander’s claim that the sculpture celebrates feminity, onlookers might first notice its other features.

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Both “NOW” and “Witness,” its companion sculpture situated in Madison Square Park, feature braided hair that resembles ram’s horns and tentacular limbs instead of arms and feet. Both figures also appear nearly naked.

According to the Madison Square Park Conservancy, “Havah…to breathe, air, life” will remain until June 4, but there are some who wish it would be removed much sooner.

“The citizens of New York should be outraged that their hard-earned tax dollars have been used for such an offensive display,” said Penny Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America, according to The Christian Post.

“This is the same city that just tore down a statue of Teddy Roosevelt because it was too ‘controversial’ but a satanic symbol to glorify the murder of a child in the womb is not?” Nance said. “No wonder New Yorkers are leaving in droves. No one should be forced to look at this disgusting graven image of evil. Tear down this statue.”

Sikander spoke of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in reference to her work.

“In the process, it is the dismissal, too, of the indefatigable spirit of the women, who have been collectively fighting for their right to their own bodies over generations,” she said, according to Hyperallergic. “However, the enduring power lies with the people who step into and remain in the fight for equality. That spirit and grit is what I want to capture in both the sculptures.”

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Artnet pointed out that the sculpture features Ginsburg’s “signature lace collar.”

The Madison Square Park Conservancy said Sikander “unites female figures and motifs from nature and confronts symbols of power and justice to examine long-standing practices and attitudes impeding the advancement of women.”

Not everyone agrees with that assessment.

Should this sculpture have been installed on the courthouse?

Billy Gribbin, the communications director for Rep. Rich McCormick of Georgia, said in a tweet, “They turned abortion into a pagan idol to worship and put it on a courthouse.”

Many others described the sculpture in similar terms.

For her part, Sikander has not ingratiated her art with a skeptical Christian community. She said she hoped her figures would serve as icons of resistance, according to The Art Newspaper.

“Eve is also the first law-breaker, right?”

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