January 4, 2010 / 6:55 PM / in 8 years

Senegal's "renaissance woman" faces cover-up

DAKAR (Reuters) - The skimpily-dressed female figure in Senegal’s giant monument to the “African Renaissance” faces a possible cover-up after the architect on Monday said he had proposed a remodeling to cover up her bare legs.

<p>The nearly finished monument to the African Renaissance rises above the Dakar skyline in Senegal's capital August 19, 2009. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly</p>

The giant group of man, woman and infant perched on a hill overlooking the capital Dakar is bigger than New York’s Statue of Liberty and is due to be inaugurated in April.

But the pet project of President Abdoulaye Wade has been mired in controversy and condemned by religious leaders in the overwhelmingly Muslim country as un-Islamic for presenting the human form as an object of worship.

“Our problem is with the woman’s bare legs,” architect and Wade adviser Pierre Goudiaby Atepa told Reuters by telephone, referring to the thigh-length hemline of the female figure’s tunic.

“Right from the start President Wade pointed out the bare legs and asked if we couldn’t put it right. I’ve given him an estimate for doing that and it’s up to him to decide,” he said.

An official in Wade’s office said any decision on whether to remodel the 21-million-euro ($30 million) statue had not yet been taken.

Wade, 83, has said he was personally involved in designing the statue, which in style is more reminiscent of Soviet-style socialist realism than traditional African art forms.

The monument has admirers and detractors, particularly among those who argue that Senegal could better use the funds to modernize its crumbling infrastructure.

“The problem is the monument itself, not whether her skirt is lengthened or not,” said Penda Mbow, professor of history at Dakar university.

“The problem is that it shows a woman with a secondary role on the continent, which is historically not accurate,” said Mbow of the impression that the female figure is subjugated to the male in the group.

Dakar residents were bemused by the latest fuss over the project, which promoters hope will become a major tourist draw.

“I think they should have thought about this before, they’ve spent so many millions on it already,” said student Penda Dethie Nael, 22. “The money could be going elsewhere,” she added.

Additional reporting by Arjun Chaudhuri; Writing by Mark John; Editing by Jon Hemming

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