TAKE a virtual journey around the world as the United Buddy Bears, 143 life-size painted fibreglass bears, will be at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur until Feb 15.
The bears, each representing a country recognised by the United Nations, are painted by artists of that nation.
Inspired by the painted cows in the New York Parade, Eva Herlitz from Berlin, Germany, came up with the painted bears to convey the message of friendship, tolerance and peace while helping charities.
The bear was chosen among other animals as it represents Berlin, where Herlitz hails from.
Created by Herlitz, her husband Dr. Klaus Herlitz and sculptor Roman Strobl, the bears were first conceived in 2002 and have been travelling around the world since 2003.
The bears arrived in Kuala Lumpur a few days ago from Germany in eight containers and are now standing 'hand in hand' at the main entrance of Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, symbolising the future vision of a peaceful world.
At the launch ceremony, mayor Tan Sri Ahmad Fuad Ismail expressed his delight that the United Buddy Bears share Malaysia's vision and mission to create a world where everyone can live in peace and harmony.
The launch saw the revealing of the Malaysia Bear, which was designed and painted by Malaysian artist Imuda (Abdul Rahim Muda), who took just four days to complete it during his one-week stay in Berlin.
Inspired by Malaysia's rich culture, the brightly-coloured bear has elements of the main races, culture, flora and fauna as well as famous landmarks.
"It is also the only one among the 143 with a smiling face," Imuda said happily at the ceremony.
Also present were Tourism Malaysia chairman Datuk Dr Victor Wee, United Buddy Bears Malaysia organising chairman Tan Sri Syed Yusof Syed Nasir and creator of United Buddy Bears, Dr Klaus Herlitz.
"This is a colourful yet meaningful initiative to promote multicultural tolerance and global understanding is also a unique showcase of art," said Wee.
United Buddy Bears Malaysia is targeting two million visitors throughout the exhibition and a few hundred thousand ringgit of donations.
Funds are raised through the Adopt a Bear Campaign where an individual or company can "adopt" a bear for RM10,000 and have their names placed on the pedestal of that bear.
There will also be activities for children and adults such as photography and colouring competitions, visits from children from homes and educational tours by schoolchildren.
The money raised will go to Rumah Nur Salam Chow Kit, Ti-Ratana Welfare Home, Shelter Home for Children, Angels Home for Children and Yayasan Raja Muda Selangor.
In his speech, Herlitz hailed Malaysia as the "first in Southeast Asia", not only in terms of being football champions, but also the first country to host the United Buddy Bears in the continent.
"The bears have seen many cities but more importantly, they have seen the joy and happiness of the beautiful people," he said.
He stressed that the bears do not represent any political system or government of a country, only the people regardless of backgrounds.