A Lamp for Mary

Artist: Mikala Dwyer
Location: Mary's Lane, Sydney, Australia
Year of completion: 2010
Researcher: Elisa Yon

In 1996, a lesbian woman named Mary was brutally raped by two men in what was then called Floods Lane in Surry Hills, a suburb located southeast of Sydney’s central business district. The neighborhood is well known as a gathering place for the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras celebrations. In 1997, the South Sydney Council and the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (AVP) initiated a project to bring attention to this tragedy and raise awareness of violence against gays and lesbians. A community planning and implementation committee was formed to include artists, community representatives and council members. The committee worked together to identify a violence prevention strategy that included safer street lighting, landscaping and a street mural as part of their plan.

In February of 1997, the lane was renamed Mary’s Place in a ceremony that included the unveiling of a painted mural and plaque. In 2006, a fire at the nearby Beresford Hotel initiated renovation work that caused the destruction of the mural. The community rallied together again in 2009 to develop and issue an open call to artists for an artwork to honor the woman named Mary who survived the brutal attack 14 years earlier.

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A Lamp for Mary by Sydney-based artist Mikala Dwyer was commissioned and installed in Mary’s Place in 2010. The singular and seemingly traditional street lamp is made from anodized aluminum and stands proudly in the lane. The unique lighting fixture is in the form of a red, multi-ringed and double conical shape, reminiscent perhaps of a traditional lampshade one might find in an art deco home. At night, the lamp casts a pink glow in the lane creating a meditative sense of place and remembrance, while providing adequate lighting for the safety of passersby. The artist consulted with representatives from the GLBT (Gay Lesbian Bi-Sexual and Transgender) and other community groups including Haughton Design, Wesley Mission, NSW Police Force, ACON Anti-Violence Project, St. Michael’s Anglican Church, ACON Young Lesbians Project, and Twenty10. A plaque displays a poem, written in collaboration by community representatives and poet, Michael Taussig. It reads:

“This is a lane with a name and a lamp in memory of the woman who survived being beaten and raped here. She happened to be lesbian. When the sun sets this lamp keeps vigil along with you who reads this in silent meditation.”

The reinstatement of this memorial is a testament to the growth and strength of the local GLBT community, city officials and community residents in maintaining awareness, not only of Mary’s tragedy 14 years earlier, but also of violence towards all women regardless of sexual orientation. Mikala Dwyer explains her intentions for the work: “The idea came out of nowhere and it just seemed liked the necessary thing to do as a gesture to protect, heal, warn, and also celebrate the power of survival in Mary.”

A Lamp for Mary is a hybrid artwork in the public realm that serves as a memorial and as an integrated piece of urban street furniture. It is an example of how a community consultation process, led by an artist, can be used to create an artwork that offers community representatives a sense of ownership, pride and identity of place. The functionality, site and place specific nature of the work also reflects the many roles we, as community representatives, city officials, public art administrators, and other stakeholders, have increasingly come to expect from contemporary public artwork today.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency