27 August 2003

Limited edition Prince

Prince Harry's nascent painting career has got off to a less-than-glorious start, writes Michael Hutak.

Binge drinking, pot smoking, stealing sacred Aboriginal motifs – what's next for that right royal scallywag, Prince Harry? Third in line for the top job, 18-year-old Harry is what's known in the trade as a "spare", and with time on his hands, it seems the crazy young redhead now seeks to be known as "the prince formally known as artist". 

To recap, after Harry passed his A levels at Eton in June, the palace rustled up some publicity shots showing off the pictures he produced for his B pass in Art. Done in a faux-Aboriginal style with lizard motifs, the works showed Harry has a real future in the souvenir tea-towel industry. 

An obscure Portuguese gallery immediately offered £10,000 ($24,100) for the works, and London Aboriginal art dealer Rebbeca Hossack even offered him a show, suggesting the young pup "go out and see these lizards live and eat them", when he makes his sojourn down under for his "gap" year (reported cost for security to Australian taxpayers: £250,000). 

However Aboriginal art groups were not amused, branding the works "cultural theft" and Harry naive, ignorant and insensitive. Prominent Perth artist Julie Dowling charged Harry with "ripping off another family. His grandmother is the head of his church, he should show respect for other people's religions". 

The beat-up circled the globe, from The Guardian to Bahrain's Gulf Weekly. Harry's minders issued statements that he meant no offence, that he wasn't trying to pass off the works as Aboriginal, and that they certainly weren't for sale. 

Now that the paint has dried on the "furore", ATSIC's cultural commissioner Rodney Dillon is taking a more conciliatory approach. "We won't be taking any action or anything," he says. "We just hope that when he comes out here he visits some of the Aboriginal art communities to find out more about us and about why we get so upset when people do what he did." 

Dillon says cultural centres in the Northern Territory and Queensland had already decided to invite Harry to visit. "We'd be very interested in extending a hand of friendship. He's obviously very interested in Aboriginal art and that can only be a good thing. We think he could end up being a very good ambassador for us in England." 

Dillon says he'd received scores of hate email since the story broke, but "if we went round hating all the people that hated us, we'd be a bitter and twisted mob by now".


First published in The Bulletin,

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