Thursday, January 19, 2012

United Buddy Bears in Kuala Lumpur

Last December I took the opportunity of the month-long break I had from work to do some bit of photography. A Sri KDU student, Zoey informed me that "the buddy bears are at the Pavilion" so I headed over there in the heart of Kuala Lumpur to see what sort of thing the buddy bears are.

So I drove my car and parked at one of those shady unofficial parking spots a few blocks away from the Pavilion, since parking at the Pavilion and any of the surrounding areas in Bukit Bintang is either almost impossible or expensive. Walked my way to Pavilion whilst praising myself for the parking decision I made earlier, the traffic jam going to and leaving from Pavilion was a total nightmare. As I neared the place, I immediately saw them --- the Buddy Bears.

More than a hundred of these colorful bears were lined up on the pedestrian sidewalks and the plaza in front of Pavilion. The bears are part of an exhibition called the United Buddy Bears and they'll be staying in Kuala Lumpur for about two months or so.

For most of the exhibition, the bears are meant to represent a country and each of the bear was painted and decorated by an artist from the country it represents. The motifs and decorations on the bear tell you a bit about the country and the culture it represents. I naturally looked around for the Malaysian buddy bear and thankfully the organizers had arranged the bears in alphabetical order according to the official UN listing of the  name of country, so finding the Malaysian bear wasn't as hard as performing an ant swarm optimization algorithm to pinpoint the location of the said bear.

Anyways, I took lots of photos of the bears representing many countries, but for the purpose of this post, let's start with the Malaysian bear.

The Malaysian Bear was painted by Mr. Abdul Rahim Muda, the Malaysian artist most commonly known as Imuda. He was famous for his comic strips in Malaysian newspapers since the 1980's until now and for some time acted in some popular Malay comedy sitcoms in the 1990's.

I took the chance to explore the details of Imuda's way of expressing Malaysia through his artwork on the Malaysian bear. And of course, front and center, the image of Malaysia being multicultural is prominently displayed on the belly of the bear.

Cultures / Race represented: Sikh, Sarawakian (represented by the hornbill), Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Sabahan (represented by the orangutan)
Each major race is shown wearing their respective traditional attire, and the bear itself is wearing a Baju Melayu --- either to express that the Malays are the main race of the country, or that because Imuda the artist that worked on the bear is Malay. Either way, it is not immediately evident because that particular detail is not as prominently presented as other ideas in the artwork.

On the left elbow of the bear is a Malaysian traditional kite, the Wau Bulan. This particular type of kite is meant to represent the traditional pastime of the Malays, especially those from the East Coast where the weather can be particularly windy. The Wau Bulan is one of the iconic representatives of Malaysia and is used extensively in many things, such as currency (the Malaysian 50 sen coin and RM 1 banknote) and corporate logos (Malaysia Airlines).

Closer to the um, crotch of the bear is the rafflesia flower, known as the largest single flower on the planet. It is commonly found in East Malaysia, especially Sabah. East Malaysia, situated on north of Borneo island, though separated from most of the mainland states by the South China Sea, is a very important part of the Malaysian multicultural identity, and is famous for numerous tourist and ecotourism attractions.

The underarm (armpit, really) of the bear shows the Malaysian national flower - the Bunga Raya or hibiscus. It is shown here as a motif on a batik cloth, a traditional type of cloth and art motif common to the Southeast Asian region, used extensively in modern and traditional clothes.

The face of the bear is in my opinion a way to show the identity of the artist, as he normally draws his cartoon characters with big round shiny eyes, glowing cheeks and a big smile.

The United Buddy Bears will continue to be in Kuala Lumpur until 15 February, so if you haven't seen them yet, do take the time to check them out. There are more than just country bears, some bears have special dedications on them and some have great messages as well. Don't miss this opportunity to learn more about the world and about the message of tolerance across different cultures and faiths! Check out for more details about the exhibition.

Next I shall feature another bear representing another country, so be sure to stay tuned!

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