The United Buddy Bears World Tour is not an event known to many people. Physically, these giant Yogi Bear look-alikes are a series of painted, life size fibreglass bear sculptures. Their life mission, in short, is to deliver the message of tolerance, peaceful coexistence and support for kids in need.
There are many people who don’t know what or who the United Buddy Bears are. Some incorrectly assume that the bears are a set of stuffed toys for kids, while others more accurately guess that they are part of a peace-promoting mission. To correctly summarise the United Buddy Bears, it would be easiest to say that, they are ambassadors of peace.
Buddy Bears History
The bears were originally developed in Berlin, Germany by Klaus and Eva Herlitz with sculptor Roman Strobl in 2001 as part of the Buddy Bear Berlin Show. About 350 ‘bears’ were used to decorate the streets of the Berlin city centre with four bear ‘designs’ – one standing on its four paws, one resting on its hindquarters, one on its head and a sitting bear.
The showcase took place between June and November 2002, in a circle around the Brandenburg Gate, with about 1.5 million visitors. After the first exhibition many of the Buddy Bears were moved to new locations, including their respective countries embassies in Berlin, or sold off at auctions with the proceeds going to UNICEF.
After the success of its 2002 circle, the United Buddy Bears became an annual world tour. These days they are showcased almost exclusively on private premises, in front of hotels, office buildings, embassies and more. The United Buddy Bears sojourn to Malaysia sees them set outside Pavilion KL, one of the city centre’s biggest and most popular shopping malls, where they will remain until February 15th 2012.
A prerequisite for countries to participate in the event is that artists from individual countries are chosen to paint their culture, tradition, history and characteristics on their country’s bear. This allows the circle of The United Buddy Bears to reflect the diversity of the world’s cultures with even the smallest and poorest of nations represented.
Hand-In-Hand Buddy Bears
The colourful bears stand ‘hand-in-hand’ representing the people of their respective countries. One of the interesting things about the circle is that it changes each time it arrives at a new city due to the location’s conditions and also because the bears are always set up in alphabetical order according to the local language of the host country: this makes for sometimes politically interesting proximities. The space in front of the Pavilion is too small for the bears to form a giant circle, so they are spread out from the Bukit Bintang parking entrance in front of Michael Kors to the fountain at the mall’s front doors.
Peace and Harmony
The United Buddy Bears are impressive works of art that promote the idea of living together in peace and harmony. There are a total of 143 two-metre tall United Buddy Bears representing countries all over the world. Additionally, there are four ‘Special Bears’: there is an ‘Einstein Bear’ with a painting of Albert’s face on its stomach – homage to the brilliant inventor who once said that ‘peace cannot be kept by force, it can only be achieved by understanding.’ Plus, there is a pair of ‘Golden Rule’ bears, a ‘Global Ethic’ bear and a ‘Respect for All Life’ bear.
On its 23rd world tour, the 2011/2012 United Buddy Bears World Tour kicked off in KL on December, 8th 2011 with the Mayor of Kuala Lumpur, Ahmad Fuad Ismail, the Chairman of Tourism Malaysia, Datuk Dr. Victor Wee, and the United Buddy Bears creators Dr. and Mrs Klaus Herlitz opening the event.
Some visitors may think the exhibit is not worth exploration, but they are wrong as it is fun to see the unique flavour each nation’s artists’ have brought to the showcase. For example, Kenya’s Buddy Bear features the face of a Moran with jewellery and body paint on its front and its back has openings through which you can see scenes of rich wilderness and animals. Ireland’s humorous Buddy Bear is painted to look like a leprechaun complete with shamrocks and a Celtic cross.
Buddy Bear’s Message of Peace
Not all of the United Buddy Bears are merely funny and entertaining sculptures – some are designed to send a message about their respective country. Cuba’s Buddy Bear has the eponymous cigar in its mouth. However, the bear isn’t promoting smoking, rather celebrating the Cuban Indians who welcomed Christopher Columbus with cigars. Though the Cuban Indians were exterminated during the times of colonial government, the Cuba Buddy Bear (or Siboney as he is known to artist Nancy Torres) is a reminder of these peaceful people. Also be sure to check out Rwanda’s Buddy Bear – its lower back acts as a ‘memorial’ to the victims of the country’s 1994 genocide with the words ‘Never Again Is Never Again’ written in Rwanda’s three official languages.
Malaysian Buddy Bear
The exhibition area in front of the Pavilion is crowded with people coming to see the bears. Popular bears (i.e. the bears which see the most people looking to snap photos with it) include the USA’s Statue of Liberty-esque bear, also known as ‘Libarty’. Besides that, the United Kingdom’s Buddy Bear proudly wrapped in the Union Jack flag, is also extremely popular.
This year Malaysia unveiled a new Malaysian Buddy Bear as its first Buddy Bear now resides at the Malaysian Embassy in Berlin. The new bear is a sunshine yellow sculpture, designed by artist Imuda, with the country’s main races, flora and fauna and famous landmarks depicted. Of course, the bear sees a lot of people looking to capture photos with it – Malaysians are a patriotic lot after all.
Adopt A Bear Campaign
Entry to the United Buddy Bears exhibit is always free no matter which country it is at and KL is no different. Those interested in helping the United Buddy Bears globe-trotting mission can participate in the ‘Adopt A Bear’ campaign. It is a simple process of choosing a bear you would like and making a donation of RM10, 000 – your name will be placed on the pedestal of the respective bear. This year the charity drive will raise funds for children’s relief organisations like Rumah Nur Salam, Ti-Ratana, Shelter Home and Angels Children Home.
- Highlights: Exhibition in Bukit Bintang from Dec 2011 to 15th Feb 2012
- Location: Pavilion KL