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Dressing Up Sydney Statues

So there I was, catching the same bus that I’d caught for the past three weeks, going past the same view, seeing the same pedestrian sorts of pedestrians outside the window; when something caught my eye and snapped me out of my mini daze. Something that made my head swivel, my heart leap, and my hands spontaneously clap.

The Queen Victoria statue that I hadn’t glanced at in years was a fantastic vision of colourful robes, fake fur, and tulle. The night before she had been transformed, along with seven other statues around Sydney, as part of the Art and About festival, and she was now sitting proudly as a small crowd of people gathered at her base to take photos.

I grinned from ear to ear for the rest of my journey, and had one of those “I love living in Sydney” moments as I made a mental note to make a day of it and see the other statues.

Queen Victoria’s Bold New Look Was First to Catch my Eye

When my friend Peyton arrived from the UK, I had the perfect person to potter with, and we enjoyed a lazy sunny Tuesday going to visit the various statues. Which is when I realised how little I actually knew about them.

I mean, I knew the Queen Victoria statue because she was in front of the Queen Victoria Building. A subtle hint but a good one. But I found myself having to check the plaques of other ones to see who they were (and even then I must admit I didn’t know who Albert the Good was). Which to me is the magic part of dressing up statues, it captures our attention and makes us curious about the things we walk past everyday without actually seeing.

I was also taught something by my London friend about our own Captain Cook statue, that being that from a certain angle he looks, ahem, a little, proud and erect shall we say? For Art and About Captain Cook has been given a make over by Ken Done, but even with Ken’s robes, once you know where you’re looking, it’s hard not to notice what people have smiled at in the past. And to avoid jokes about the engraving saying he was erected in 1879.

Captain Cook Statue in Sydney’s Hyde Park

But there is one statue that I love more than any other in Sydney, and I was thrilled to see it had been included in the dress ups. Il Porcellino, the gorgeous fountain of a boar in Macquarie Street. I’ve been known to walk a couple of blocks out of my way to see him, even when he’s not dressed up, just to rub his nose and say hi.

I remember the first time I went to Florence and seeing their Il Porcellino in the market square and being so excited that there was another. At the time, I didn’t realise the Florentine boar was sculpted in 1612, and the Sydney one was presented to the Sydney Hospital in 1968, so there was a fair age gap between the two porkies. Then there was the moment in the Uffizi Museum where I saw the marble Il Porcellino that the statues had been based on and got a little tear in my eye.

A friend, who I’ll call S to protect her from gallery security, confessed that when she saw the marble one she thought of me and reached out and rubbed his nose, before realising in horror that she was manhandling part of the Uffizi collection.

Sydney’s Il Porcellino at Art and About

I was once told there were three Il Porcellinos, one in Sydney, one in Florence, and one in Canada somewhere. Which I liked. But according to good old Wikipedia, there are at least 13 of them scattered around the globe now. Perhaps I’ll get one of my own when I get that home with a large garden?

And when I do, I’ll dress mine up for special occasions too. Of course, if I do I won’t have to be quite as careful as the Art and About folk were. They worked with the History Council of NSW and Heritage NSW to make sure some famous Sydney statues were dressed up safely.

The Florentine Il Porcellino with Some Fans
Which is a little bit different than when protesters in London’s May Day riots put a piece of turf on the Winston Churchill statue’s head to create a green Mohawk. A great moment in vandalism, (if one can say such a thing!) and I love the way Banksy created his Turf War print to immortalise it.
Banksy’s “Turf War”
I’m enough of a nana that I want to make sure statues aren’t damaged in any way, but I’d love it other cities took a leaf out of Sydney’s book and got some glad rags on their statues. Here’s to giving the old girls and guys a new lease on life, and teaching us all a thing or two about the cities around us.
Sydney’s frocked up statues will keep their new looks as part of the Art and About festival until 24th October 2010.


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