March of the pandas: Six years ago, French artist Paulo Grangeon made his first papier-mâché panda, a new species amid his Grenoble store’s stock of baguette-handled knives and swimsuit-clad female torsos. His wife’s twin brother Serge Orru, then head of the World Wildlife Fund in France, was searching for a way to mark the group’s 35th anniversary and so asked his artist brother-in-law to make a rendition of the panda logo. Initially trying to emulate the simplified graphic, Grangeon ultimately sculpted a more angular animal with wide-open eyes. Impressed, Orru commissioned 1,599 more, one for every panda living in the wild (based on a 2004 survey by WWF and Chinas State Forestry Administration, a count currently being updated). The embarrassment of pandas (truly the real term) debuted in 2008 in Paris, and promptly went on tour. Since then, the merry band has traveled to more than 100 cities in 20 countries, congregating around landmarks including the Eiffel Tower and Trevi Fountain.
Wherever they go, the pandas inspire happy pictures and hopefully awareness. For all their adorableness, pandas are elusive creatures in the wild, difficult to count and coax into captivity. Human encroachment and global warming are fragmenting their habitats, leaving little room for the endangered bamboo-loving bears. And we should care beyond their cuteness: Chinese researchers recently found a peptide in panda blood that could be a “super drug” for humans.
WWF’s goal is to cue people along the panda parade route to their plight. This month found the troupe traipsing through Hong Kong, communing with the Tian Tan Buddha and appearing flash-mob-style in city streets (curious cops snapped phone photos of this midnight Mongkok mirage). After weeks of travel, the pandas have taken up residency at PMQ, acronymed after its original incarnation as Police Married Quarters, now Hong Kong’s newest arts hub. The old apartments, vacant for a more than a decade, have been converted into 100-plus small, affordable studios for design firms, galleries, artisans and boutiques. The pandas are staying in these creative accommodations through July 17. If I go, I’ll bring this speckled mini and blend into the bear market.