The Whitworth Park Obelisk: a symbol of hope

Rebecca takes a closer look at the Whitworth Park Obelisk by Cyprien Gaillard, exploring how this ancient symbol can be seen as a sign of hope and unity today. While the Gallery remains closed, Whitworth Park continues to be open to the public. If you decide to visit, please follow government guidelines.

The Whitworth Park Obelisk by French artist Cyprien Gaillard can be found right in the centre of the park.  It seems quite a nondescript work yet actually is remarkable for all it represents to the people of Manchester and the diverse local communities in context of time, place and memory, and tradition and history.  Gaillard’s work is particularly relevant here as his work explores notions of landscape – how geography affects us, as well as how geography relates to wider social issues such as politics, territory and displacement.

Cyprien Gaillard (b.1980) ‘The Whitworth Park Obelisk’ (2011)

The 6 metre high Obelisk has a chequered pattern of pink and light grey stonework.  It can be located just off the large round, central flower bed in the middle of Whitworth Park and was installed in June 2011 for the exhibition, ‘The Land Between Us: Place, Power and Dislocation.’  The Obelisk actually stands upon a plinth that has been empty since the Second World War.  It used to display a figurative statue, made in 1904 by George Tinworth (1843-1913), called Christ Blessing the Little Children.  The statue was removed during the war to protect it, but it never came back to the park and remains lost but not forgotten!  To this day, no one knows where it is.

Gaillard has always ‘been fascinated with the traditional Obelisk form and in creating this new one for Whitworth Park,’ brought ‘in elements of the history of the area, while making it a modern structure.’

Interestingly, the Whitworth Park Obelisk is made from the recycled crushed brick and concrete of demolished housing in nearby neighbouring communities; Moss Side and Hulme.  The crushed material was made from five individual parts that were then cast together.  The pink aggregate was taken from the pink brick of demolished terraced houses in the Bowes Street area of Moss Side.  The paler grey aggregate was taken from the concrete of the iconic 1960s Otterburn Close flats that sat across from Bonsall Street in Hulme.

In 2010, Dr Steve Millington from MMU presented his talk, Dislocating, Relocating Hulme, citing the neighbourhood as a place which allows us to “explore all the successes and failures of town planning and management in this county.” He went on to describe Hulme as a place which is unusual in a British context as an area which has been flattened and reconstructed twice since the 1950s, and thus has experienced extreme dislocation.  Moss Side is not dissimilar and today’s city skyline is almost unrecognisable from the past.

Cyprien Gaillard (b.1980) ‘The Whitworth Park Obelisk’ (2011)

It is worth noting that as a historically traditional architectural form, Obelisks were first implemented by the Ancient Egyptians, referring to a 4 sided tapering monument, ending with a pyramid like shape on top.

In Ancient Egypt, obelisks were intended to represent a petrified ray of light.  The tips were covered in gold to reflect light and they stood in pairs outside sun temples to guarantee the Sun Gods eternal presence. The Ancient Egyptians also believed that an obelisk was a tower of protection and defence.  The needle of the stone was believed to disperse negative forces in the environment.  Obelisks have since stood proud as Westernised archetypal monuments and status symbols, war trophies and memorials, symbolically commemorating the ‘greatness’ of the British Empire.  Often sited as solitary, showy gateways and connectors to cities, or in pairs welcoming people as they pass through cities, for example, Cleopatra’s Needle in London and its ‘twin’ in New York.

Cyprien Gaillard (b.1980) ‘The Whitworth Park Obelisk’ (2011)

Touching the Whitworth Park Obelisk feels like you’re reaching out and touching history.  Its metaphoric ray of light connects and unites people. Gaillard has utilised the common bond of displaced and drifting communities, their histories and memories, good and bad, together with the connective duality of Moss Side and Hulme.  The Obelisk gives hope, recognition and acknowledgement to all such past and present communities; in not only remembering the past but also in bringing perhaps an element of closure and a sense of moving forwards.

For this Obelisk of duality is made of its surroundings, for the people of Manchester.  A monument, if you like, to a city in constant flux.  A memorial to places, homes and even communities that no longer exist.  An affirmation of the roots of the people who once lived in them.  Remember it as not only a symbol of dislocation and displacement but also as a powerful symbol of hope!  A bringing of dispersed people together despite continual political and social shifts in the 21stcentury, and a symbol to unite us during these present times.

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