“Il Mare” (2023) installed at Piazza Rita Levi-Montalcini in Monopoli, Italy (all images courtesy the Monopoli Times)

If the Floridian school board considered Michelangelo’s “David” to be pornographic, Lord knows what they would say about the new public artwork unveiled last week in a small fishing town in Italy’s Puglia region. A rather voluptuous mermaid sculpture called “Il Mare” (2023) was installed in the Rita Levi-Montalcini Square adjacent to a playground in the town of Monopoli, stirring up quite the controversy online among those who saw her body type as “provocative.”

“Il Mare” is one of several installments in a series commissioned by the mayor of Monopoli for the local Luigi Rosso art school for a town redevelopment project. According to the Guardian, Headteacher Adolfo Marciano said that the students came up with the idea on their own after being tasked with creating a sea-themed project for the public square honoring renowned Italian scientist and Nobel laureate Rita Levi-Montalcini. From the front, the mermaid’s crossed arms hoist up her exceptionally large breasts while her rear, arguably the most eye-catching part about her, is prominently defined by what looks like surgically enhanced buttocks of the Kardashian variety.

Twitter user Sally Morgan has questions about the new sculpture. (screenshot Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic via Twitter)

The most pressing question on everyone’s mind right now is why must the mermaid be double-cheeked up on a Thursday afternoon, crack and all? Do mermaids even need butts if they have fishtails instead of legs? Some residents of Monopoli were incited by what they viewed as an overtly sexualized statue installed beside a new playground at the square as well, questioning the town’s decision to display the artwork near a place where children frequent.

Others failed to see the connection between the well-endowed mythical creature and the Nobel laureate honored by the square, with one virtual critic mentioning that Levi-Montalcini once said, “The women who changed the world never needed to show anything but their intelligence.”

To Headteacher Marciano, the sculpture is a “tribute to the great majority of women who are curvy, especially in our country.” In defense of the mermaid, Marciano said that he viewed the sculpture as a “representation of reality,” and that it would have been “very bad if we had represented a woman who was extremely skinny.”

“It’s a shame as the art students deserve to be praised instead of criticized,” Marciano continued. Neither Marciano nor any other representatives for the Luigi Rosso art school were immediately available for comment.

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...