ANTWERP | Goshka Macuga’s ‘Figures of Absence’ honours underrepresented women in public domain art 

In 2021, artist Goshka Macuga from Poland was commissioned by Kunst in de Stad (Art in the City) to create a new work for the annual ‘Public Figure‘ presentation series. The City of Antwerp has now bought the artwork. It has received a place in the Stadspark (City Park).

Issues about monuments and the common good are an important theme in the internationally acclaimed oeuvre of Goshka Macuga (°1967). In this she investigates political and cultural history and the different ways in which they are expressed visually (or remain hidden). 

This results in work that is both surprising in form and sharp in content. This is also the case with the sculpture ‘Figures of Absence‘ (2021), a trompe-l’oeil sculpture cast in rubber that addresses the absence of historical women in our public heritage and in one movement also playfully corrects it. 

Under 10%

Some figures. Less than 10% of the works of art in the Kunst in de Stad collection were made by a female artist. Of the more than 55 statues dedicated to historical figures, none depict a deserving woman. These statistics were an important element in the creation and acquisition of this new work of art.

éWith this acquisition, we are continuing to focus on the presence of art in Antwerp’s public space. Artists invite us to see the world differently. Goshka Macuga does just that: showing what was not yet visible and reminding those who might have been forgotten too easily”, Nabilla Ait Daoud (N-VA), Antwerp alderman for Culture. 

“The Art in the City collection has been developing since the 17th century and continues to grow and change even today, in dialogue with the city and its residents. Goshka Macuga and her work show that the historical collection can function not so much as a benchmark, but as a sounding board in the development of the collection”, says Samuel Saelemakers, curator of the Kunst in de Stad collection.

Five women

‘Figures of Absence’ portrays not one, but five women. Macuga, for example, rejects the tradition of the ‘hero on his pedestal’ – elevated solitary above all others. 

Instead, the artist gives shape to an idiosyncratic, trans-historical collective: 

  1. Chantal Akerman, pioneering Belgian cinematographer and visual artist.
  2. Andrée Blouin, pan-African political activist and member of the first democratically elected government of the independent Congo.
  3. Patricia De Martelaere, philosopher, professor and author.
  4. Marie Popelin, first female doctor of law in Belgium and key figure in the international women’s movement.
  5. Mathilde Schroyens, first female mayor of Antwerp and education reformer.

More comprehensive biographies – in Dutch – of these women are available here. The Middelheim Museum blog post includes close-ups of the facial profiles. 

‘Figures of Absense’, by Goshka Macuga. Photo by Tom Cornille for Middelheim Museum and City of Antwerp.

Macuga chose these five historic women because of the great impact their lives and work had on society and the arts, in Antwerp, Belgium and beyond. 

To create the new artwork, the artist collected as many photo portraits of the selected women as possible, drew their unique facial profiles on the basis of these, and then had them cast in rubber. The resulting negative or ’empty’ portraits refer to the high degree of absence of women from the collective memory and public imagination.

‘Figures of Absence’ can be seen in the Stadspark until Sunday 15 May 2022. 

Together with the artist, Kunst in de Stad is looking for a new permanent location in the city to present the image in the future.

About Goshka Macuga

Goshka Macuga was born in Poland in 1967, and has lived and worked in London since 1989. In her work she connects different research domains and methods, with a focus on associative interpretations of social and political history. Macuga’s strategic use of existing stories, materials and archival documents allows her to transform dominant discourses into unexpected, new stories.

Macuga had solo exhibitions at New Museum, New York, among others:

She participated in Documenta 13 in 2012, and was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2008. Her work is included in the collections of Tate, MoMA, Government Art Collection, Arts Council Collection, MCA Chicago and Castello di Rivoli, among others.

Goshka Macuga is one of the shortlisted artists for the Fourth Plinth art commission in London in 2022 and 2024. 

Art and museums in Antwerp

32 Comments Add yours

  1. elvira797mx says:

    Wow! Very interesting post! beautiful sculpture, thnak’s for share Timothy.
    Have a lovely weekend!
    Keep well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Timothy says:

      Thank you Elvira. There aren’t enough women in the public domain.

      Have a great weekend.



      1. elvira797mx says:

        Exactly Timothy. Hope soon. Thank’s!
        Great weekend too!

        Liked by 1 person

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