Public statues in central London are two-a-penny, honouring the good and the great. It’s usually men who stand confidently on the plinth, but women are there too, selected for their good deeds in education and housing and fighting poverty - even martyrdom. See the statue of Edith Cavell surrounded by swirling traffic in Trafalgar Square. She was a nurse executed in Brussels in World War I for helping soldiers on all sides to escape from German-occupied Belgium.
For people of a certain age there's a tug of recognition. She's a copy of the model of a dejected and wretched girl with a teddy bear and a leg in callipers silently pleading for money for the Spastics Society. The figures stood on the pavement or in the doorway of many a High Street shop in the 1950s and 60s. Hirst has remade the splinted girl, scuffed her appearance and burgled her Help-the-Spastics charity box in order to put important issues on a pedestal.
Now the charity Scope exists to make this country a place where, whenever possible, disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. The collection boxes were withdrawn in the 1980s in favour of promoting positive images of disabled people. And people learned to drop the word 'spastic', which began innocently enough but had grown into a common word to express contempt. And it’s not just the pitiful figure in the shop doorway which has been replaced. So have callipers. New timely medical and surgical procedures have resulted in building healthy limbs in ways which could not have been imagined decades ago.
Somehow Hirst's Charity manages to be both monumental and vulnerable. But not pitiful. She was first shown in Damien Hirst’s solo exhibition Romance in the Age of Uncertainty ( 2003) at the White Cube, Duke Street. It was a provocative show, where Hirst ‘explored the uncertainty at the heart of human experience...' One critic said that by bringing into play religion, art and science, he was ‘ layering these categories together, opening them up, in works that tell new and different stories’, speaking eloquently about injustice and the erosion of values