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This unique idea is a creative way of emphasizing respect and peaceful coexistence among the peoples of all countries. In the first place, the choice of the figure of a bear is something that immediately recalls the stuffed bears of our childhood, communicating the tenderness, cleanliness, sincerity and sense of freedom associated with this stage of our lives.
These figures were born in Germany for the purpose of reaching out to the entire world. Their message is consistent and transcends time and space, a clever and pleasant way of motivating contact among cultures, religions and nations that might otherwise be disconnected from each other.
United Buddy Bears manage to break down stereotypes in regards to the preconceived ways we tend to see other nations. In some cases, the artists involved in this project have profoundly conceived ideas that take their country away from archetypes and this is clearly the success of the show. Even though the bears are arranged in alphabetical order by the names of their countries, just looking at the colors used and the economic, ethnic and religious details in their designs tend to place them quite accurately within their correct geographical areas.
Deciphering each artist’s homeland or tradition is part of the project. Ingeniously, all of this has been placed onto a very limited surface, one that per se is also a transmitter of messages. Viewers are able to enjoy and unravel each creator’s strategies, some overcome by memories and others attempting to escape from the complicated challenge. There are also a few “ironic bears” in the group.
Each viewer can settle on their favorites, even divorced from any previous ima
ges they may have had of the countries. This is because, apart from the message, these creatures have lives of their own, with identifiable characters or faces that may or may not be familiar to us.
Indeed, this show appeals to people of all ages who want to expand their knowledge and who are curious about the mysteries that lurk beneath so much diversity. The bears are able to awaken desires to research different traditions such as those of Scandinavia for example, or to listen to different kinds of music like that from the Andean or Celtic regions, or to find out about the culinary arts in the Ukraine or to discover a different aspect of the Caribbean area that may sometimes be a little strange for the majority of Cubans.
There are bears for all tastes: serious ones who are preoccupied with their content and more light-hearted ones who are an explosion of fantasy and colors, such as those representing the Caribbean. The ones from Bolivia, South Africa, Japan, Scotland and Venezuela have special charms.
The exhibition has been in the square for just slightly over a week but it has been widely accepted and enjoyed by the Cuban public. Its special location is perfect for inviting interaction between the pieces and the visitors; moreover, this multitude of twenty-first century bears contrasts beautifully with the colonial architectural setting.
Many friends have asked me what I think of the Cuban bear. And what I have perceived is that our bear decided to talk about the history of tobacco with great gusto, interpreting our island from the point of view of a sort of fetish, winking one eye and clouded over with the smoke of his cigar.
Finally, I am always happy to praise any event where the artworks are placed in the position of the United Buddy Bears—seet firmly planted in reality and trying to improve the lot of others according to their possibilities and scope. This project has collected over two million Euros for the good cause of improving the conditions of many sick children all over the world.
Febraury 2015 This article formed part of the February 2015 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.
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