"Paying tribute to themes of feminism and justice, this sculpture adds vibrancy and life to the popular Ellen Melville Centre and Freyberg Place."
One of New Zealand's best-known female artists, Lisa Reihana was chosen to create an artwork to celebrate feminist trailblazer Ellen Melville. The brief was to design a piece for the outside of the mid-century O'Connell Street building in downtown Auckland – now known as the Ellen Melville Centre – as part of the restoration and refurbishment of the building and surrounding public space on High Street.
Ellen Melville practised law for 37 years and was the second female lawyer to pass the Bar in New Zealand in 1906. She was also the first woman elected to city council in New Zealand. As a nod to Melville’s career as a lawyer, Reihana uses the scales of justice in her sculpture.
Cast in bronze by Monument Sculpture Foundry in Onehunga, the 3.8 metre-high scales are framed by an abstract patterned background, a reference to the building's modernist aesthetic, painted by Nigel Roberts. Unlike the notion of blind justice, these scales are tipped in favour of women. Holding the higher position of the scales, the bowl contains the ancient female symbol of Venus. The counterweight bowl contains the letters EM, for Ellen Melville, which is lower and closer to pedestrians.
"I wanted the bronze sculpture to form the centrepiece of the façade – it's a strong, singular form with gentle curves, while the whimsical abstract wall composition has a 50s feel..." said Reihana of the work when it was installed in 2017.
Ellen Melville Centre, Auckland Central