Unlimited: Emily Woodruff presents Ms Godiva

Emily Woodruff's Ms Godiva: Lady Godiva is reimagined as a modern woman, riding a bicycle naked through Broadgate in Coventry City Centre, with sanitary products in her bicycle basket.

As part of our International Women’s Day celebrations today, we’re excited to be sharing a first glimpse of Emily Woodruff’s Ms Godiva – one of our ten micro-commissions awarded in partnership with Unlimited.

This vibrant painting reimagines Lady Godiva as a modern woman, cycling unfettered through the streets of Coventry. As well as celebrating the city’s bicycle manufacturing heritage, the (series) aims to “reform the norm” by challenging traditional depictions of femininity – aiming to champion body positivity and destigmatise body hair and menstruation.

We asked Emily a few questions about her work, and you can read what she had to say below alongside some close-ups of the painting.

What drew you to Lady Godiva as a subject? 

I was attracted to Lady Godiva as a symbol of freedom, emancipation and the power of wielding womanhood. I wanted to draw that energy into a modern-day depiction that anchors on Coventry's history and how it has shaped the city we see today. 

How did you hit on the idea of tying that in with Coventry’s cycling history?

When picturing how a modern Godiva might travel about the city today a bicycle seemed the obvious choice, not only for its strong ties to the industrial ebb & flow of the city's economy but as a tool of freedom and independence for many, particularly women across the globe whose societal and economic constraints might not allow access to a vehicle.

Tell us a bit about the process of creating your work? Were there any major inspirations?

I drew upon the city's history I've picked up after living here for just over a decade, and did a bit of finer research on top. I wanted to incorporate the youngness of the city too, with its ever-changing population, cyclical influx of fresh young minds and constant restructuring, so included the current shopfronts of Broadgate (a snapshot in time) and used a hyper-coloured palette to inject the vibrancy that continually changing footfall has brought.

I started by taking some reference photos of Broadgate and the Godiva statue for inspiration, created a rough digital collage to work from and started sketching. Nowadays, I'm staying away from reference photos and focusing on working in a more fluid and expressionist form, using urgency to capture movement and ideas as they come. 

Your work is described as “playing with our fear of ourselves”. How does this project reflect that? 

I like to touch upon our 'fear of ourselves', elements of our human nature that we as a society tend to find more comfortable to look away from, and have done so perhaps more gently here by invoking the female form. Our censorship of female bodies, particularly in their unadulterated form, is technically adhered to here and yet we know that behind the concealment Ms Godiva rides naked and her jovial greeting tells us she is unabashed. 

What does “reforming the norm” look like to you and how does your practice reflect that?

'Reforming the norm' is about sovereignty of mind and body, to present truths about our existence without persecution and my practice feels like a continual pursuit of such.

What are your hopes for the project going forward? 

Going forward I'd like to find funding to rework the piece into a sculpture which will utilise the remnants of the discarded industries of Coventry to highlight the transient nature of prosperity in the city and the cycles of change that weather its walls. Nothing lasts forever. Watch this space!