Panda-monium: 1,600 papier mâché bears tour HK


As a horde of 1,600 papier mâché pandas touches down in Hong Kong and goes on a citywide tour, Mary Hanbury finds out just exactly what they’re doing here and why there’s so many of them

Stop! It’s panda time. WWF-Hong Kong is asking people to raise a paw in honour of the panda this month. And yes, we’re anticipating excitement levels approaching that which heralded the arrival of Florentijn Hofman’s giant Rubber Duck in Victoria Harbour last year.

On Monday June 9, 1,600 papier mâché pandas made their grand entrance at HK International Airport.

These pandas have been created in various sizes by French artist, Paulo Grangeon. There are 1,600 because, poignantly, that is the number of pandas remaining alive in the wild. The bears have already been seen by 50million people on their travels around the world, which so far has included Paris, Berlin, Rome, Grenoble and Taipei. During June and July they are touring landmarks throughout our city in order to raise awareness of the conservation of this lovable and endangered bear.


Why do pandas have fur coats? They'd look stupid in denim jackets

The tour concludes with a temporary exhibition at PMQ, curated by AllRightsReserved (yes, the guys who brought us the duck). The exhibition aims to merge creativity and conservation by using interactive art to foster support of a sustainable environment where man and nature can coexist. Or as Grangeon puts it, ‘to use art to inspire people to create a more sustainable planet for the future’.

The panda is among the world’s most recognised endangered species. It wasn’t until it became the logo of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 1961 that the cause behind it gained momentum but, since then, it has become, as Betty Chan from WWF-Hong Kong puts it, ‘a national treasure’ throughout China. She rightfully points out that the panda brings huge economic benefits to the surrounding communities through ecotourism. 

By making these areas sustainable it should also increase the quality of life for the local populations. Working with the Chinese government, the charity has developed a giant panda conservation network in China. About 1.34million hectares in size, the area consists of 62 natural panda reserves, key corridors and forest farms. By providing a suitable habitat that had otherwise been destroyed by human settlement, their objective is to ‘expand and connect more forests so they can roam further’.

After roaming Hong Kong, the papier mâché pandas come to rest for three weeks at the new creative hub PMQ in Central. Directors William To and Victor Tsang explain that ‘PMQ is a site of co-creation and the whole campaign is a prime example of this idea’. Moreover, that ‘the sustainability concept is very meaningful and perfectly matched to PMQ’. 

Smoky eyes are all the rage Grangeon painting one of his pandas

Tsang points out that PMQ is a building that had been vacant for over 30 years and has now been completely revitalised, or ‘upcycled’. Chan says that this is symbolic of the way these pandas are made out of recycled paper, showing us that ‘from something old, something new and exciting can be born out of it’. PMQ, Grangeon and AllRightsReserved all share a mutual desire to remind the public that conservation does not need to be an arduous task – that it is part of our daily life and can be creative, and that everyone has a part to play in protecting nature.

Stick with me One of the bears being created

So what exactly can we expect to see at PMQ when the pandas are in town? We’re promised hidden pandas, panda-themed objects and panda workshops – in other words, panda-mania. Visitors are encouraged to spot the pandas, interact with the art and talk to local designers during their visit to PMQ. 

Workshops are also running at PMQ throughout the exhibition, encouraging people to bring recycled paper and make their own papier mâché pandas. Grangeon explains that the exhibition has been a success in each city because visitors seem to have so much fun, and this is certainly what we should expect from the Hong Kong pandas this summer. 

Grangeon is committed to the cause and hopes to continue to use his art to educate people about different types of endangered species. Meanwhile, PMQ tell us they will continue to whole-heartedly ‘welcome different organisations with meaningful campaigns’. Really, when it comes to mixing art, cute pandas and conservation, how can you say no?

Pandas on tour: where and when you can spot the critters

Saturday June 14
Hong Kong Clock Tower, Tsim Sha Tsui; 1pm-4pm.

Thursday June 19
Victoria Park, 1 Hing Fat St, Causeway Bay; 12pm-2pm.

Friday June 20
Hong Kong Tram (travelling from Sai Wan to Causeway Bay); 12pm-3pm.

Saturday June 21
Statue Square, Des Voeux Rd, Central; 8am-10am.

Tuesday June 24 - Thursday July 17
PMQ, 35 Aberdeen St, Central; 7am-11pm. 

Shh… The pandas are also making impromptu ‘flash mob’ visits to the Big Buddha, Mai Po Nature Reserve, Sha Tin Racecourse, Sai Yeung Choi Street, the Avenue of Stars, Ocean Park and the HKCEC! Stay tuned… 

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