An announcement by the scientific community earlier this year that the Formosan clouded leopard is extinct saddened many, especially those who have been trying in vain to find the subspecies for the past 13 years.
However, thanks to Paper Windmill Cultural Foundation artistic director Lee Liang-jen (李良仁) and residents of Taipei’s Wanhua District (萬華), the once-endemic creature has found new life and expression in the form of dozens of brightly colored sculptures.
Measuring 1.4m in length, the 21 life-sized leopard statues are part of a public art project titled Remembrance and Rebirth: Wanhua Youth Park’s Public Art Installation Project that was initiated by the foundation at the request of the Taipei City Government’s Department of Cultural Affairs.
The sculptures were made by the foundation and painted in a variety of patterns by residents of nine boroughs surrounding the park and students from 12 elementary schools in the district.
Several participants painted characters from the popular computer game Angry Birds on the statues to express their anger over the loss of the Formosan clouded leopard, while others painted their vision for the future of the district — a prosperous commercial district in the western part of the city in the 1970s that has fallen behind after the city’s eastern area took off.
“I am touched by the creativity of each and every participant. I did not teach them anything, but they have given me so much,” Lee said.
Lee said the project aimed to rekindle people’s memories of the park by getting them involved in painting the sculptures, which were also designed to serve as a remembrance of the now-extinct leopard and as a reminder of the importance of ecological preservation.
Lee, a graduate of the National Taiwan University of Arts’ sculpture department, was also the mastermind behind a well-received exhibition showcasing larger-than-life insect and animal statues that opened in Greater Taichung’s Wenhsin Forest Park in April.
He is also the founder of Rich Art & Culture Co, and initiator of the Paper Windmill 319 and 368 Children’s Art projects, which seek to bring entertainment and theatrical performances to all corners of the nation.
The leopard statues are on display at the Youth Park and will soon be joined by two larger sculptures depicting the extinct animal — one reaching 5.2m in length, 0.77m in width and 1.8m in height, and the other measuring 5m by 0.67m by 1.6m.
The two large sculptures are due to be unveiled at a ceremony at the park on Sunday in which Lee will join hands with several borough chiefs and hundreds of young students and local residents to breathe life into the statues with their paintbrushes.