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‘Benetton bears’ bring bear farming to Italy

This has been our week of art, as we celebrated some amazing events around the world that are benefiting the bears and our other programmes across Asia.

First off, Italy, where our fabulous office pulled out all stops recently to persuade the authorities in Naples to hold an exhibition in their most famous square – the breathtaking Piazza del Plebiscito. The exhibition was incorporated into the official agenda of “Maggio dei Monumenti”, an international festival first held in 1994.

The aim is to promote Naples’ historical and artistic heritage through performances, conferences, photography/art exhibitions, concerts and workshops. The festival attracts around 500,000 visitors from all over the world every year.




And my, was it spectacular indeed! Carmen, Irene and team had persuaded world-famous photographer Oliviero Toscani of Benetton fame (see one of his famous ads here, "Three hearts"), who has kindly supported us in the past, to oversee an exciting new project as part of our ongoing campaign theme “Save me from sickening medicine”. 




In early May, his son, Rocco Toscani (renowned Art Director of La Sterpaia, a workshop where Oliviero unites emerging young artists from all over the world), and assistant Tommaso Gesuato travelled from Italy to Chengdu to photograph dozens of our bears for display in the piazza in Naples. 


 



Capturing the charisma of Jasper, Prince, Quantock, Caesar and others, as well as the new bears who had recently been rescued from Shandong, Rocco and Tommaso turned things speedily around on return and had soon produced over 50 of the best into massive banner displays. They included in the exhibition a number of portraits of bears in cages taken by our incredibly talented (and generous) supporter, Hong Kong photographer Ali Bullock. Ali went with us to the bear farm in Shandong Province in April, capturing the haunting beauty of the bears together with the horror of the farm. 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 




At first when I climbed out of the taxi, I felt as though it couldn’t be real – giant-sized banner photos of our bear family in Chengdu were now here in the middle of beautiful Naples, with the public admiring them all. Children and their parents were standing in front of the photographs with big beaming smiles and even though at that point they knew little of their background, it was a profoundly moving moment to see them admiring the bears all the same.

The photos below of this fantastic event are courtesy of www.lazampa.it and the ones above were taken by our own Italian staff.


 

 

 



The press conference in the Mayoral building later that morning was wonderful to join – the Mayor's representative, Councillor Valeria Valente, had invited myself, Carmen and Rocco to talk about our various roles in bringing the message of bear farming to Naples. Joining us too was Michele from ENPA (the National Organisation for the Protection of Animals). Lastly, I was thrilled to be given the Gold Medal of Naples by Councillor Valente.




Following the press conference, we were invited to the piazza to cut a ribbon together declaring the exhibition open and hoping that the people of Naples and tourists there too would join our mission to end bear farming in Asia.




Later, as we were leaving, we were finally able to meet some of the other residents of the Piazza, besides the bears. There in the square and in front of many of the photos, lying in the shade, were some of the city's stray dogs. But these were far removed from the distressed and thin animals one normally thinks of as strays. Here, robust and friendly, young and old, all wagging tails and wandering happily up to visitors to say hello were the healthiest strays I'd ever seen in my life. And there was one of the volunteer carers, who had made it her mission to ensure the dogs were all healthy and well fed. In fact so well fed were they that one, the beautiful Zorro, refused to eat one of Naples most famous pastries, which I’d saved for the flight home.

At the end of a whirlwind visit of just over 24 hours, I was delighted to be invited to see the “real” Naples and admire the city’s churches and chapels, losing myself in the most exquisite architecture I have seen in years. We visited San Severo Chapel, which houses one of the world’s most famous sculptures, the Veiled Christ. 




My grateful thanks to our new friends in Italy – Simona, Mariuccia, Chiara, Adolfo, Tonino and Massimo …. and of course to our wonderful, wonderful team there – Carmen, Irene, Antonello and Giulia who, as ever, arranged this exhibit at no cost whatsoever to Animals Asia, with every single centime going to the bears. Grazie mille to our superb Italian friends from the bears and teams in China and Vietnam who have so much benefited from your help.

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