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Princes William and Harry unveiling a monument for their mother, Princess Diana of Wales, at Kensington Palace in London (screenshot via the BBC)

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In a brief ceremony in London yesterday, July 1, Princes William and Harry took a break from their much-publicized family feud to unveil a statue of their late mother, Princess Diana of Wales, on what would’ve been her 60th birthday. And as par for the course of almost any public artwork, critics have already pointed to flaws in the monument.

Made by British sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley, the larger-than-life statue shows the beloved princess surrounded by three anonymous children. Her hands are rested over the shoulders of a boy and a girl in the foreground with the girl holding the princess’s hand with an emotional expression on her face. The third child in the background is partially obscured by the other figures and can hardly be seen from a frontal view.

“Every day, we wish she were still with us, and our hope is that this statue will be seen forever as a symbol of her life and her legacy,” said Prince William at Kensington Palace’s Sunken Garden, where the statue was placed.

According to Rank-Broadley, Diana was featured with the unknown children to “capture her warmth and humanity while showcasing the impact she had across generations.” The artist was commissioned to make the sculpture by William and Harry in 2017.

In an article for the Guardian, British art critic Jonathan Jones slammed the sculpture as a “religious image that shamelessly plays up to the most mawkish aspects of Diana worship.”

“She deserves to be remembered,” Jones wrote. “But does she need to be turned into a colossal divine protectress of all children?” 

Jones also wrote that Diana’s figure stands in an “awkward, stiff, lifeless pose” and that an inaccurate depiction of her face, which he called “manly”, was “modelled apparently with thickly gloved hands and no photo to consult.”

The internet had its fun with the sculpture too. One Twitter user compared the scene depicted in the monument to a moment from the 1971 musical film Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Another user likened Diana’s sculpted face to the real-life face of actor Robert Redford.

In front of the statue, a paving stone was engraved with an altered excerpt from the poem “The Measure of A Man,” in which “man” was changed to “woman”. It reads:

These are the units to measure the worth
Of this woman as a woman regardless of birth.
Not what was her station?
But had she a heart?
How did she play her God-given part?

In a statement, Kensington palace explained the same poem was used in a program for the memorial service commemorating the 10th anniversary of Diana’s death in 2007. Still, the choice of this poem drew backlash from critics.

Writing for the Daily Telegraph, British poet Tristram Fane Saunders called the decision to include a poem featuring a male protagonist “awkward and irregular.” Saunders also wrote that an initial press release from the palace (later corrected) misattributed the poem to German philosopher Albert Schweitzer, though the original poet is commonly cited as “anonymous.”

“Here’s the golden rule about choosing an appropriate poem,” Saunders wrote. “If you have to re-write it to make it appropriate, you’ve chosen the wrong poem.”

The Sunken Garden is said to have been Diana’s favorite part of Kensington Palace. In 2017, the garden was completely re-planted with white flowers to honor the late princess, inspired by a photo of her in a cream-white dress taken by Mario Testino. But judging by the reactions in the British press and social media, many would prefer to see the oversized sculpture sink into the ground.  

Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and he holds an...

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