If you go down to Plaza San Martín today you’re sure of a big surprise! One hundred and forty big bear surprises and all of them in disguise!
The colourful Buddy Bear Project displays dozens of bears, each representing a different country. Artists from every nation have painted the 2 metre tall bears, depicting aspects of their country’s culture, history and identity. The exhibition is organised to promote peace and understanding, representing countries of the world united and holding hands.
The project was conceived in Germany in 2002. Since then it has been expanded and began it’s world tour in 2004. To date it has attracted over 20 million visitors in five continents.
Eva Herlitz, one of the founders of the concept, has travelled with the bears to all of the 18 cities they have visited. I met with Eva in Plaza San Martín to find out more about the exhibition and her exciting experiences on the road.
“Each bear was painted originally by an artist that comes from the country the bear represents… it shows the variety of our world and at the same time the individuality of each country.” Eva says. “You really can learn something from having a closer look at the bears and I say the more you know about a country, the more understanding you have of people from these countries.”
The bears are arranged in a circle in alphabetical order, according to the language of the country they are visiting. This has resulted in some interesting combinations, Eva tells me. “In Jerusalem…they had the Israeli bear between the bears representing Iraq and Iran.” It is thought provoking sights like this the Buddy Bear Project has the potential to highlight.
Prior to their arrival in Buenos Aires the bears visited Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. It was a monumental occasion as the first public free exhibition in the country. The exhibition was not complete, as only bears from countries that had positive relations with North Korea were permitted to be displayed. Despite this Eva says she feels it was a constructive experience, bringing a variety of cultural expressions to Pyongyang.
“I would say we can’t change the world doing this exhibition but it’s a little piece of mosaic. People make other pieces of mosaic with other means. All these are coming together somehow. That’s why I think the exhibition is worth doing.” Eva says.
With hundreds of smiling people strolling around the plaza, it strikes you that this isn’t the typical atmosphere you might encounter in an art gallery. “People come here who maybe wouldn’t go to a museum but they like the bears and take a look at it.” Eva says. This ability to attract people of all ages and interests is part of the exhibitions success.
The exhibition has raised over US$2m for UNICEF though donations. Eva says she is amazed with the commitment of the people who brought the exhibition to Buenos Aires. She says that she has never encountered a city so dedicated and engaged with the project. The exhibition has been so popular there is talk of extending its stay.
“This circle is a picture of something we all have in our hearts. We think people from all over the world should stand hand in hand as the bears do in the circle. People love to see the exhibition because they can see…what they are all dreaming of.”
Eva and the bears are planning their next move at the moment and it looks like Berlin is on the cards. That’s not to say the bears are going home! With the ‘one world’ they represent the bears are sure to be welcomed wherever they go.
The exhibition opened in Plaza San Martín on 5th March and is planned to continue to 13th April. Entry is free. For more information log on to www.buddy-bear.com