It’s very hard to miss this very colourful and imposing exhibition presently located directly opposite the port in one of Old Havana’s loveliest, main squares – Plaza de San Francisco. To demand WORLD PEACE, LOVE using BEARS. It’s also easy to criticise – of such uneven quality are many of the 143, two-meter tall, painted objects; that is, until you read about the project and watch the faces of hundreds of delighted children.
The idea for the United Buddy Bears show/world tour was inspired by the New York City Cow Parade: hundreds of painted, fibreglass cows which raised over $1 million for local charities. The idea travelled to Berlin in 2002 where it transformed: bears instead of cows; to carry a message of friendship, tolerance and peace; to raise money for children in need. These “…ambassadors of peace” were seen by 1.5 million visitors and aimed to “…reflect the diversity of the world’s cultures with even the smallest and poorest of nations represented”.
Countries who want to participate choose a local artist to paint their bear, reflecting aspects of their particular tradition or history. Most are fun, others more serious such as Rwanda’s Buddy Bear; it’s back a ‘memorial’ to the victims of the country’s 1994 genocide include the words ‘Never Again Is Never Again’.
Cuban kids and families
Here in Havana this exhibition has been a “popular art” event attracting hundreds of visitors, mainly Cuban families and their kids. Children dash around the square looking for the Cuban bear, but then move on and look at those from other cultures. Some parents test/tell their kids where in the world different countries are; others just enjoy the crowd, colours and the wander round.
I recommend this exhibition, then, not for its artistic quality but for its power to attract ordinary Cuban families. Many visitors come wanting to meet, or at least be around, local people in a meaningful way. This is one of those opportunities – especially if you speak a little Spanish.