A 45-foot-tall statue of a nude woman, weighing in at 16,000 pounds, will greet visitors on the Mall for four months if activists have their way. They say the steel statue would stand in a yoga mountain pose near the Washington Monument facing the White House, depicting a strong woman feeling confident in her body.
The massive artwork would be the main attraction at the annual "Catharsis on the Mall" in November — a festival in the nation's capital dubbed a "Burning Man" for Washington. Burning Man, an annual desert festival outside Reno, Nev., is known for building a hippie-like community that promotes art, self-expression, inclusiveness and civic engagement.
Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the National Park Service, said the agency is reviewing permits for the statue, adding that it's "plausible" that the agency would allow such a large and striking sculpture to remain through the winter months. Catharsis organizers want the statue in place through March.
"As with all First Amendment activities, our review is to ensure public safety and that park resources and values are protected; we do not take into consideration content of the message presented," Litterst wrote in an email.
The statue, R-Evolution by Marco Cochrane, depicts singer and dancer Deja Solis with short, dark hair. Cochrane said Solis posed for the statue and chose how her sculpted self would be positioned. Cochrane designed the statue for Burning Man in 2015 and is now storing it in his studio space outside San Francisco.
Organizers are raising upward of $100,000 to transport the sculpture and have a team of workers and engineers assemble and inspect it. The statue would be placed on a base that weighs an additional 16,000 pounds, Cochrane said.
Cochrane has created two other towering statues depicting Solis that have debuted at Burning Man.
"We need to show women just being in their bodies, just being humans, as an antidote of the constant sexualization of the women's body, the constant dehumanization," Cochrane said.
Cochrane's partner and professional collaborator, Julia Whitelaw, said the statue isn't sexually provocative, although she understands some on the Mall might view it that way. She said she hopes people challenge themselves to look past the statue's physical body and "see her humanity first."
"We are asking the question: What would the world be like if women were safe?" Whitelaw said. "We are asking people to imagine that."
While a large statue of a nude woman has never been permitted for a long-term stay on the Mall, the Park Service has approved long-term political art installments and vigils. In 2015 and 2016, a nonprofit received permits to pitch a large plastic tent near the Washington Monument to play nonstop worship music for months. In 1997, protesters installed near the White House a large copy of the "Goddess of Democracy" statue, a symbol of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
Sanam Emami, an organizer and spokeswoman for Catharsis on the Mall, said a challenging condition of the group getting a permit is a requirement that someone be on site monitoring the statue 24 hours a day for four months. Emami said the group would probably be able to find enough volunteers.
The Catharsis on the Mall festival will run Nov. 10-12 — the third year for the event in the nation's capital. Each year, the event has revolved around a different theme, with the first two years focusing on healing from the drug war and recovering from trauma. This year's theme is "nurturing the heart" and equal rights.
Last year, the Park Service denied Catharsis organizers a permit to light a 30-foot-tall wooden structure on fire as part of a demonstration calling for more funding for veterans and research for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Natalie Ginsberg, a co-creator of the Catharsis event, said the free festival in November will feature sunrise yoga, lectures, performances and late-night dance parties. Organizers also plan to promote work by female artists at the event.
Ginsberg said she hopes people who don't know anything about the event will discover it and participate.
"The last two years, my favorite part was seeing people who had no idea what was going on and just stumbled in," Ginsberg said. "They are so overwhelmed with this radical inclusion and these principles that we are trying to bring to the world outside of Burning Man."