Human Statues

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Human Statues

This week on Ooh, Interesting! Fascinating Facts, we look into the history of the living statue, an entertainment form that divides opinion like no other. Many love the way they stand in situ for hours. But where did living statues begin? Where did living statues come from?

Put simply the history of the living statue – at least where it all began – is lost to time. Arguably the first living statue can be traced back to the ancient Greeks where members of the public would pose for famous sculptors looking to mold their marble. Realistically though, the living statue as we currently know it first appeared in the 19th century as a circus performance. PT Barnum displayed living statues as part of his circus tours, a peculiar curiosity to the minds of those in the 1840s.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, living statues became ever more widely known thanks to the emergence of the art form known as tableaux vivants; a group of actors would pose and be lit in a particular way so as to appear like paintings. The resulting performance was often shot on camera (which meant the performers had to stand still in their chosen pose) or performed on stage to the amazement of spectators. Cleverly, by tagging these performances as art, nude actors and actresses were able to perform erotic entertainment on stage, flouting theatre censorship laws. As long as the girls didn’t move, it was deemed okay by the masses. The most notable instance of this was under the stewardship of the famous Mrs. Henderson at the Windmill Theatre in London in the 1930s and 40s.

Since that time, living statues have featured prominently in both art and film – The Phantom of the Opera and Hot Fuzz are two recent films that have shown living statues on screen, whilst revered duo Gilbert & George utilized living statues as part of their gallery installations in the 1960s. Moving from inside to out, street performances too have flourished in the intervening years as various living statues appeared near famous landmarks all over Europe and the US.