Florence has Michelangelo’s David. Brussels has the Manneken Pis. Austin has Stevie Ray Vaughan. And now Sugar Land, the prosperous suburb southwest of Houston, has the Selfie Statue.
Installed last week in Sugar Land Town Square, an ersatz plaza in front of the city’s mock-Georgian city hall, the selfie statue (officially titled Selfie) is a life-size bronze representation of two teenage girls posing for a smartphone photo. The subject appeared innocuous to many—Sugar Land said the statue was intended to depict an “activity common in the plaza”—but reaction on social media was swift and brutal:
Y'all I saw the selfie statue in Sugar Land with my own eyes; it's as ridiculous as it sounds pic.twitter.com/2FF4XQKb7K
— Melinda Taylor (@mtayl19) May 27, 2016
So is the city of Sugar Land expecting us to take pictures with that statue of 2 girls taking a selfie? I'm embarrassed for everyone.
— Gabby Vera (@GabbyVera3) May 26, 2016
Outrage spread to Reddit, where a thread devoted to the statue quickly attracted scores of comments. (Most popular comment as of today? “Sugar Land would,” followed by “It’s way too hot for that scarf.”) Houston news outlets picked up the story, followed by the state and national press. The furor even reached across the Atlantic, with the Daily Mail—always quick to scent any whiff of a scandal—running a story on the now internationally notorious sculpture.
Details about the selfie statue’s origin and meaning are scarce. Contrary to accusations of wasted money, Sugar Land did not pay for the sculpture. City officials have said it’s part of a ten-piece collection of sculptures donated by local resident Sandy Levin. (Attempts to contact him were unsuccessful.) Other pieces from Levin’s collection have already been installed over the past few months without complaint, including one of a man strumming a guitar (located across the plaza from the selfie statue) and several alligator sculptures in nearby Oyster Creek Park.
“I don’t know why that sculpture in particular has gotten so much attention,” said Sugar Land’s cultural arts manager, Lindsay Davis. When I asked who the sculptor was, Davis deflected the question. “It’s more of an artist group, is my understanding,” she said. “It comes from a foundry that Mr. Levin works with. Really, they’re more like decorative statues than like works of art. They aren’t part of the city’s art plan.”
On a late afternoon earlier this week, a steady stream of passersby stopped by the selfie statue to gawk, argue, and—yes—take selfies. “I wish it was something more creative, or maybe something historical,” said Sugar Land resident Sofie Momin.
Her friend Zukhruf Ali nodded her head in agreement. “And, like, by being in our town center, it’s representative of the people here. And it’s not really the best thing to represent us.”
Rena Shah, who had seen the statue on Good Morning America and come with her mother to check it out in person, disagreed. “I love it—I think it’s hilarious,” she said, as she snapped photos with her iPhone. “Ten years ago, when I was in high school, I was probably walking around Town Square taking selfies.”
Asked whether the statue reflects well on Sugar Land, Shah laughed. “I think it reflects Sugar Land very accurately. Even down to the outfit—knee-high boots, cardigan …”
The selfie statue does have its defenders. On Reddit, a commenter going by the handle the_green_ranger predicted that “in 30 years, I bet you that people will see this statue and say, ‘Hey, remember when we used to do that?’ That’s what a statue is for.”
Others tried to find a silver lining to the controversy.
“Ehh,” one person commented. “At least it’s not a Confederate statue.”