A life-sized statue of Diego Maradona, the legendary Argentine soccer star, has just been unveiled in Ezeiza, the country’s main airport on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
“The airport of Ezeiza is the place of entry and exit of thousands of Argentines and foreigners to Argentina, a place that, like Maradona, connects cultures and people,” says a press release shared with Hyperallergic.
Maradona, whose name is synonymous with fútbol to countless fans around the world, died last November at the age of 60, prompting an outpouring of artistic tributes — from street art and murals in his native Villa Fiorito, a working-class Buenos Aires neighborhood, to winged figurines and altars in Naples, Italy, where Maradona is practically worshipped for his seven-year stint with the local Napoli club in the 1980s.
Nicknamed El Pibe de Oro, “the Golden Boy,” Maradona has now been fittingly immortalized in what appears to be burnished bronze but is actually 3D-printed polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The sculpture stands at the player’s actual height of five feet five inches and can be seen by passengers as well as visitors to the airport on the first floor of terminal A.
It’s a rather generous interpretation of Maradona at his prime, based on photographs from the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico City. The statue depicts the attacking midfielder gazing out solemnly during the national anthem prior to the final match that ended in Argentina’s 3-2 victory over West Germany, the first of the country’s two World Cup wins. A team of graphic designers superimposed the images to create the final model, which was then produced in parts using 40 3D printers. It was hand-painted using car enamel to resemble the texture and appearance of a bronze monument.
“The result is a sculpture that melds passion, art, and the latest technology to immortalize the star,” reads a statement from Aeropuertos Argentina.
But others have mocked the sculpture’s Adonis-like features. “Thankfully he has the number 10 and the Argentine jersey, because his face looks nothing like him,” said one Twitter user.
It was also during the ’86 tournament that Maradona scored the goal he later christened la mano de Dios, “the hand of God,” during the quarter finals against England. In a documentary, Maradona acknowledged the handball foul and called the goal a “symbolic revenge” against the English for their usurpation of the Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands.)
Maradona struggled with drug and alcohol addiction during his lifetime and was banned from the 1994 World Cup after he tested positive for ephedrine, a performance enhancer. In Argentina, which declared three days of national mourning after his death, as well as abroad, he is remembered as a complicated figure, a victim of substance abuse and the pressures of fame.
The funder of the new statue, Argentine billionaire and conservative Eduardo Eurnekian, also has a problematic legacy. Eurnekian, whose company operates more than 50 airports in Argentina and beyond, is a supporter of former Argentine President Mauricio Macri and has faced accusations of tax evasion and corruption.
He promised the tribute to Maradona during the player’s lifetime. Their friendship dates back to 1978, when Maradona was only 17 and kept out of that year’s World Cup because he of his age. (Maradona signed with Argentinos Juniors at the age of 14.) Eurnekian sponsored the young player, providing monthly stipends until the next tournament.