The most inspiring sculptures in the world

Helen Alexander

Senior Contributor

Promoting inclusivity, human connection and a respect for Mother Nature, these stunning sculptures offer an eye-catching alternative itinerary to the ‘usual’ landmarks. We take a look at some incredible public artworks from around the world.

Anti-violence: The Knotted Gun

Designed to look like a Colt Python 357 Magnum revolver, this bronze sculpture was originally created by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd as a tribute to John Lennon, after the former Beatle was shot and killed in 1980. Forty years later and it’s become a powerful symbol of The Non-Violence Project and cities around the world – from Cape Town to Beijing – have erected their own version. The original can be found outside United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Meanwhile, the iconic Knife Angel sculpture is crafted out of 100,000 knives that have been surrendered to police forces across England. The 8m tall structure stands peacefully over the town of Telford in Shropshire.

Progress: Stockholm’s metro stations

Go underground to see the city’s Art in the Subway project, which has transformed 14 metro stations into engaging exhibition spaces. With visual depictions of Newton’s laws of motion and Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine, Tekniska Högskolan is a celebration of scientific advances and discoveries, while Stadion’s vivid rainbow that soars across the rooftop is a fitting tribute to Stockholm’s annual Pride festival that takes place nearby. The third-deepest station, Östermalmstorg, is dominated by artist Siri Derkert’s sketches depicting historical figures who have campaigned for women’s rights and the word ‘peace’ – written in many different languages – pops up everywhere. 

Women’s Rights: Millicent Fawcett

Only recently unveiled, the statue of suffragist leader and social campaigner Millicent Fawcett is the first monument to a woman to be erected in London’s Parliament Square. Marking 100 years since some women were granted the right to vote, Millicent can be seen holding a banner quoting an extract from a speech she gave in 1920: “Courage calls to courage everywhere.” The statue joins those of Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, and was commissioned following a public petition advocating for female representation in the square that was signed by nearby 85,000 people. 

The future: Moongate

Chong Fah Cheong’s 3.8m high bronze ring is one of 40 public artworks on display at Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay. Taking inspiration from traditional Chinese garden architecture, the circular structure symbolises community and connectedness, and invites viewers to imagine the bright future that lies beyond the portal. Nearby, the local sculptor’s fascination with the future and the hope that comes with each new generation can be seen in the frozen-motion sculpture of five boys diving from the banks at Cavenagh Bridge. Also conveying a sense of carefree happiness, Cheong’s Romp depicts three children playing on the boulders that border Okanagan Lake in Penticton, British Columbia, Canada. 

LGBT rights: Gay Liberation Monument

Located in Christopher Park this public artwork commemorates the rebellion that took place at the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan’s West Village, which ultimately led to the modern gay rights movement. This group of statues by George Segal might not look ground-breaking, but in its depiction of two couples socialising it represents a show of openness that had been denied to the LGBT community for so long. 

Equality: Harriet Tubman, also known as Swing Low

One of the statues erected with the help of Statues for Equality – a global movement that’s on a mission to balance gender and racial representation in public art – this piece in Harlem, New York, shows the African-American abolitionist striding forward despite roots clinging to the hem of her skirt, which depicts images of the slaves she helped to escape via the Underground Railroad.

Environmentalism: The Force of Nature

Versions of Lorenzo Quinn’s dynamic The Force of Nature status can be spotted in locations around the world, but the one in Doha, Qatar, is perhaps the most well-known. The sight of Mother Nature spinning the planet around is a reminder of the sheer power of the natural world and the devastating impact climate change can have on Earth’s fragile balance – variations can also be seen outside the Jing’An International Centre in Shanghai and on the Avenue of the Americas in New York City. In the UK, the musical Singing Ringing Tree is made from galvanised steel pipes and harnesses wind power to produce a haunting melody. Set amid the Pennine Hill range and overlooking the town of Burnley, it’s a sculpture that combines the elements with a stunning manmade achievement.

Travel: Les Voyageurs

Sculptor Bruno Catalano believes that every time we visit a new place, we leave a little part of ourselves behind. That’s the inspiration behind his Les Voyageurs statues in Marseille, France. The 10 life-size surrealist sculptures that grace the waterfront resemble a jigsaw puzzle that’s missing sections, giving them a gravity-defying, ethereal quality. Playing with the themes of migration and journeying, his work can also be seen in Venice and Singapore.

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