Aleksandra Mir is an artist based in London. Without slowing down her own prodigious output, she has taken it upon herself to spearhead an initiative to bring the iconic bronze statue of Freddie Mercury in full rock god regalia — stationed in Montreux, Switzerland — back to London. The monument was commissioned by the remaining members of Queen after Mercury’s passing and brought to life by a master of figurative sculpture and artist behind some of the great lost monuments of the Cold War era, Irena Sedlecka. In 1991, the Westminster Council rejected the statue and it found a home in Montreux, where it’s become a shrine for Mercury fans from around the world.
The Freddie on the Plinth proposal would bring Freddie, on loan for a year, to the empty fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, “to honor both Freddie Mercury’s and Irena Sedlecka’s artistic legacies, as an exploration of the connections between socialist realism and glam rock, to contemplate the void created by all silences, and to channel love through the celebration and sheer expression of life.”
We caught up with Aleksandra to ask her about the petition and her take on the predestined meeting of the sculptor and the rock star.
Have you received any response from the Westminster Council since the Freddie on the Plinth proposal and petition were launched?
No, but the petition is not yet finalized and has formally not been filed anywhere. It is an open ended, unsolicited project, so anything can happen and that is ok.
How do you think Ms. Sedlecka’s earlier work, creating heroic statues in the socialist realist style, informed her vision of Freddie Mercury? It seems to have some of the hallmarks of that era, minus the compulsory stodginess.
Irena was trained a classicist. She had a remarkable education in Prague after WWII which involved rigorous study of the human form, but she was also expected as an artist to move beyond mere naturalist depiction — to edit, to exaggerate, to abstract and to bring both her subjects and her own character into the work. There is both anatomical perfection and soul in her bronze of Freddie. This kind of training is completely lost today. So when Queen’s management discovered her as, what they thought, the most skillful sculptor working in Britain, her work had been obscured in the art world for almost thirty years. She still had it all in her though and she took it on with great enthusiasm. What you have as a result, in my mind, is a masterpiece.
Freddie Mercury himself seemed to cultivate an image that in some ways mimicked the “cult of personality” employed by Europe’s 20th century (male) leaders — or at the very least his mustache did. He might have been the perfect subject for her art form.
Yes, they proved to be perfect for each other. As a very young artist, Irena had been making work on a monumental scale, which only the regime of her day could have supported. As she says, it seemed a good idea at the time — to celebrate communist heroes, considering they had beaten the Nazis and that her generation had just emerged from war so had enormous enthusiasm for the new socialist model. Fast forward and most of her work was later destroyed in the Velvet Revolution. At the same time, in the West, secular mass worship had taken on the form of stadium rock. And Freddie, one of its greatest heroes, became the perfect subject for a memorial depicting him at the height of his powers at Wembley stadium.
Are any of Sedlecka’s sculptures from the pre-Velvet Revolution era still on display in their original location? We’ve heard that her monument to the victims of fascism in Melke Mezirici in Moravia is.
The Moravia monument still stands. A large portion of Socialist Realist work was actually dedicated to ‘common people’, anonymous characters that suffered the war or that were mythological representations of the human plight — mothers and children, workers, elderly people. It seems these artworks had more of a chance of surviving the post-communist era than named ‘heroes’ who ended up being rejected by history.
Oscar Wilde was famously persecuted in London but he’s now memorialized by a statue at Charing Cross. His took 98 years though, do you think Freddie’s will take that long?
Who knows? This is a work about two people, both Freddie Mercury whose life story and fame is omnipresent, and Irena Sedlecka, who works in quiet. It is an amazing tale of an artist’s productive life that covers nearly a century of European upheaval and shifting ideologies. What I learned is that the political winds can change very drastically and unexpectedly from one day to another. It is impossible to say today what would eventually prompt a return of this rejected statue and masterpiece to London.