My Quest To Make Lady Diana Into A Feminist Monument
We’re all familiar with equestrian statuary, or the full-sized equestrian statues that commemorate historic figures – most frequently emperors, rulers, or military commanders. These statues have existed since at least archaic Greece and ancient Rome and are presumably created to praise men who have honored their country by winning wars and conquering new land at the cost of a lot of lives. These statues are difficult and expensive objects for any culture to produce, so they’re hardly common. And yet, even though this discipline has existed for more than two thousand years, there are only 36 equestrian statues with female riders in the entire world.
When I started working with the Berlin-based artist Poul R. Weile, he told me his vision: to create an equestrian statue honoring Lady Diana (Princess of Wales). He wanted to use this classical discipline to reflect on today’s society. I initially failed to see the sense in this. Lady Diana died in a horrific car accident in 1997, the same year as I was born. I knew she was a media darling, on the front page of every magazine, her looks constantly praised, but that was basically it.
Shortly after, however, I started researching Diana and the history of equestrian statues, and started to understand Poul’s mission. I discovered Lady Di was so much more than "just another pretty face." She was a fierce humanitarian, an active member of the board of over a 100 charities, and used her massive media influence to draw attention to these organizations. She was not averse to making physical contact with AIDS patients, though it was still unknown whether the disease could be spread that way. Queen Elizabeth did not support this type of charity work and suggested Diana should get involved with “something more pleasant,” but Diana understood that others were not yet afforded the opportunities that she was, and therefore worked to overcome those societal imbalances.
Diana was not only a determined humanitarian, but also a feminist in that she set the standard for royal women to be more than just some kind of "decorative thing" standing beside a powerful man. She set out to be her own person by refusing to act the way other people wanted her to, daring to instead be an individual in spite of gender roles and a societal structure that wanted her to conform to a stereotype. She also acknowledged her personal weakness — like her eating disorders, depression, and suicide threats — in addition to those of the broader society in which she lived.
Poul R. Weile’s equestrian statue of Lady Di honors a woman who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of many challenged and underprivileged people around the world. We envision that the sculpture will be situated in a public place where it is easily accessible and can be experienced and enjoyed by all. We’re still in the process of bringing this vision to live, however. To make the sculpture — which will be 6 meters high and 5 meters long — we still need funding and intend to launch a crowdfunding campaign.
Our project has recently been covered by publications in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Russia, South Africa, Czech Republic, Hungary, Portugal, and Italy, but many of these articles unfortunately focused heavily on Lady Diana’s appearance. Some declared that Diana’s dress is “skimpy,” “riding up her leg,” and that she is sitting on the horse “rather unladylike.” Ironically, this is exactly what the statue was created to counteract. In a way, this coverage only underscores the statue’s importance in the context of a culture that somehow always assesses women’s actions based on what they're wearing and how they look rather than what they do.
It is a sad fact that even now in the 21st Century our society is still calling into question the legitimacy of true gender equality. Women should be able to wear whatever they want and ride a horse however they please. And Lady Di did. She dared to not just fit into the gender role she was given, but was also a prime example of a woman going against the grain.
Just like a woman should not be judged based on her appearance, neither should art be purely judged by how it looks. Our team’s vision with this project is to question how we perceive classical art and revise the classical discipline of equestrian statuary in a more modern way, where more contemporary discourses, like feminism, are included. Poul R. Weile’s equestrian statue of Lady Diana presents an active, proud, and confident woman. A woman who is at ease with herself, aware of her own strength and importance. A woman burning for her cause.
Hopefully, this statue will be the first of many.
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