OPINION: Georg Kolbe’s ‘Young Woman’ has revolutionary potential apart from its problematic past

A stone statue with a green cloth that reads "Aborto Legal" around the neck is pictured.
Scripps must find a way to reimagine Georg Kolbe’s “Young Woman” in a way that empowers all women, writes guest columnist Arianne Ohara PZ ’25. (Courtesy: Jasmine Baetz)

As an assigned reading for my Expanded Ceramics: Building Historical Memory class, we read the February TSL article by Lily Dunkin SC ’24 on the statue “Young Woman” at Tiernan Field House at Scripps College. Her op-ed questions Scripps’ values and accountability in displaying a statue by Georg Kolbe, a Nazi-associated artist who was praised by Hitler himself. Our professor, Jasmine Baetz, brought in Dunkin for a class discussion, where we explored possible next steps and solutions to the controversy: “Can we replace the significance of ‘Young Woman’?”

The statue’s history seems deliberately buried. It is a history that reinforces Western ideals of purity, delicacy, and femininity; one that has represented extreme violence for women of color. If a liberal arts college’s permanent gallery collection can blatantly promote this form of whiteness, then students should be able to expose its historical framework and challenge its presence. 

I biked home thinking of the ways the statue could be reimagined and spotlighted to make a statement and draw attention to its problematic presence. Since the removal of the piece could potentially take months of discussion, documentation, and logistical planning, I thought of immediate ways to reinterpret “Young Woman” into a history the collective community could be proud of, or turn it into an art piece that we can use to inspire each other until its removal finally happens. 

As a Mexico City native, I’ve grown up surrounded by fierce feminist movements fighting for reproductive rights and protesting the inaction of the government regarding femicides. I know of families who have suffered losses, and the constant assault culture so many women are surrounded by. 10 women and girls are killed everyday in Mexico, and Latin America has some of the strictest abortion laws in the world

International Women’s Day falls on March 8, and is not celebrated in Mexico the same way it is celebrated abroad. It’s a day of remembrance and resilience, a reminder of the constant fight for equality and equity rights. A massive annual march is organized on this day, where the streets are filled with protestors fueled by passion and anger from all over Latin America, wearing green bandanas. These protests, captured by collectives such as Bondi Fotográfico, encompass a global movement called La Marea Verde, or the Green Wave. It takes inspiration from the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who wore white scarves and demanded information about their children who were imprisoned and disappeared by the Argentinian military junta. 

Nowadays, the green bandana has become a symbol of modern Latin American feminism, that first surfaced in 2020 when the Argentina’s Congress approved a bill to legalize abortion. After Argentina became the first influential Latin American country to begin forging a path to accessible, legal and safe abortion, other countries have begun to follow in their footsteps. In Mexico, abortion was decrminialized in 2021. Though legislation varies by state (five states in Mexico, including Mexico City, have decriminalized abortion up to 12 weeks), the reproductive rights movement set forth by activists and mothers has proven to be effective.

The Latin American feminist movement targets sexual education and abortion as a primary issue, using slogans such as “aborto seguro, gratuito, y legal” (safe, free and legal abortion) on their bandanas. These have become globally identifiable objects that define the movement for legal abortion, and therefore seemed like a perfect reinterpretation of “Young Woman” and the Aryan ideals it stands for. An assigned project for my ceramics class led me to create a sculptural intervention that redressed and reclaimed the space and history regarding Kolbe’s statue. I attempted to interrupt the meaning of the piece by giving it a new purpose through a clear and rigorous message that simultaneously subverts and calls attention to its fascist origins. 

Titled “La Marea Verde,” this piece was inspired by the feminist movement and every artist that has helped shape its meaning and visuals. The bold green contrasts the bright white lettering that reads “aborto legal” (legal abortion), tying into the space through color and form. During the brief installation of the piece, I was aware of the risks I was taking, since I had not previously talked to a Tiernan Field House representative about my idea regarding “Young Woman.” After our class critique and discussion, a Scripps staff member expressed her concerns about the piece “contradicting with the school’s messaging regarding the statue.” I took the bandana down as the staff member wrote down my professor’s name and email, a feeling we equated to being called into the principal’s office. In the meantime, Scripps will hopefully provide more insight into what exactly their “messaging” is while I speak to the statue’s representative administration.

As I packed the bandana back into my bag and we walked back to the ceramics studio, I knew I wanted to pursue a second installation. In a world where violence is perpetrated against women of color due to long standing expectations of white femininity and silence, how can we coexist with a statue that serves as a constant reminder of that fact? I want to sustain the awareness Dunkin created with her article and galvanize student support for her demand: “We must remove ‘Young Woman’ by Georg Kolbe, but also hold ourselves accountable for the lingering sexism and white supremacy in our community that she represents.” As Dunkin said in response to my reimagining of the statue, “Through constant conversation with the college, it has become abundantly clear that despite administrative awareness of discontentment at Kolbe’s artwork being displayed on campus, there have been no plans to remove the sculpture. Ohara’s work is the first step for students to be in charge of how we want our values to be shown.

Viva las mujeres que luchan por sus compañeras, hijas, y madres, que su enojo y sus gritos se escuchen en las calles del país que no protege a sus ciudadanas. 

Long live the women that fight for their companions, daughters, and mothers, may their anger and uproars be heard in the streets of the country that fails to protect its citizens. 

Guest columnist Arianne Ohara PZ ‘25 is studying art history and environmental analysis. She loves music recommendations from friends, doesn’t sleep enough due to excessive yerbas at night, and wears too many rings.

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