The Westgate Panda Family never fails to attract shoppers and passersby who would stop by to share some photo-worthy moments with the friendly creatures
The Westgate Panda Family never fails to attract shoppers and passersby who would stop by to share some photo-worthy moments with the friendly creatures

Pandas are such cuddly animals that many of us wish we could have them as pets. If this is not possible, hugging them or sitting on their laps and taking pictures with them would be just as wonderful – never mind whether they are real or are in fact, sculptures.

Ever since Julien Marinetti’s Panda Family was installed at Westgate’s opening space next to the MRT station, it has become immensely popular. By day or night, you see people going up the artificial grass mound where the family of four is situated, touching them and taking pictures with them in all kinds of loving postures. There is nothing stopping them to come close to these works of art.

The People's Pets

It is the conscious decision of CapitaMalls Asia’s project team to display the pandas in such a way to engage the community. Of course there is then a bigger risk of vandalism, but it is felt that the more the works become endearing to people – in this case through an increased closeness, the less chance that they will do anything to harm them.

The Pet that Symbolises Friendship

Why panda for Westgate? One may ask. And the story goes back to the successful installation of the same artist’s first Panda Family created uniquely for CapitaLand for its Raffles City Chengdu project . It would be good to have a similar set of work realized in Singapore to mark CapitaLand’s sponsorship of the 10-year Giant Panda collaborative Programme, which saw two lovely pandas Jia Jia and Kai Kai making Singapore its home since 2012. And when the Westgate Panda Family was commissioned, the building was slated to house CapitaHub the new headquarters of CapitaLand. No better place for the sculptures.

The Pets with a Difference

With CapitaHub now established in Capital Tower instead, does it make the pandas in Westgate non-contextual? No. For since the mid 1970s, Jurong has been given certain Chinese character through the opening of the Chinese Garden. The garden’s pagoda and pavilions have long been a part of Jurong’s landscape: one would see them travelling along Boon Lay Way and they are just a short distance away from Westgate.

We gave Julien a special challenge during the making of the Westgate Panda Family. Since each of the sculptures was to be hand-painted by him as if on a three dimensional canvas, they must reflect their unique context. What about showing the architecture of the Chinese Garden in his signature graffiti style? At first Julien did not seem to be receptive of the idea, but after some weeks he gave us a surprise. He would not do Chinese Garden in graffiti. Instead, he would, in a special way of painting which suggests the presence of various features of Jurong, depict the Chinese architecture, the trees and the modern buildings. The result is something that looks abstract yet it is not, and is all the more engaging.

In Jan this year, during Art Stage – the annual big art show of Singapore, Marinetti was in town. We had a chance to meet in front of the Westgate Pandas. He recalled the challenge given and shared that he had personally visited Jurong to soak in its atmosphere before executing the paintings. He is very happy to see that the pandas thus truly belong to the location and also they are in close contact with their fans through the way they are displayed. We revisited the subject of maintenance identified right from the start of the commission. For through close contact, people do inadvertently leave undesirable ‘trails’ on the endearing pets such as shoe marks, and we want the pandas to always look pristine.

“Think of them as nice sports cars,” said Marinette, who had executed these works with car paint and coated them with resin. “Wash them, shampoo them and wax them as you would take care of your precious Porche.” Now, CapitaLand’s operation team will have to see to this.

Precisely the same love and care that we would shower onto our pets!

This article is contributed by CapitaLand Chief of Art Management, Francis Wong Hooe Wai