Singapore is well known for our lush greenery, with futuristic skyscrapers amidst heritage architecture. To complement our streets and public spaces are a proliferation of artworks. Other than our world renowned Merlion, which public artworks are you familiar with?
Fernando Botero. Bird, 1990. Photos by Colin Wan.
In this article, we’re taking a closer look at one of the most recognisable works of art in Singapore, Bird by Colombian artist Fernando Botero. This huge bronze sculpture is a well-known sight along the Singapore River, located near United Overseas Bank (UOB) Plaza at Raffles Place. Some might think the sculpture resembles a pigeon but it is actually a representation of a dove, which signifies peace and serenity, and also embodies the joy of living and power of optimism.
Photo by Marc Di Ruggiero. Source: The City Paper Bogotá.
The prolific artist behind the piece, Fernando Botero (b. 1932), playfully dubbed himself the “Most Colombian of Colombian Artists.” His unique and distinctive style, known as ‘Boterismo’ that depicts people and figures in large exaggerated volume, has made him a global figure in the contemporary art world, earning accolades such as the prestigious Lifetime Achieve Award conferred on him in 2012 by the International Sculpture Centre. Depending on the piece, he wields this style for political criticism or humour.
Left: Fernando Botero. Mona Lisa, 1978. Source: Public Delivery.
Right: Fernando Botero. A Family, 1972. Source: Sotherby's.
The artist donated many of his artworks to his hometown in Medellin, Colombia, designating them in public spaces where people could see and touch them, but this sculpture is one of the more poignant ones due to the story behind it. Today, two of Botero’s Bird sculptures are located at San Antonio Plaza, in the heart of Medellin’s city centre: one damaged and one complete, as a reminder of the park’s violent history.
In June 1995, during an ongoing music festival at San Antonio Plaza, a guerilla militant carried out a terror attack by detonating a bomb planted inside the Bird, spraying shrapnel that killed 23 people and injured 200. The attack left an enormous hole near the sculpture’s base with a few parts blasted to pieces. Defying and condemning this act of cowardice, Botero refused to remove the damaged sculpture. Instead in 2000, he created an identical piece and placed it alongside the damaged original. He named this new sculpture El Pajaro de la Paz (The Bird of Peace) as a memorial to the victims and a testimony to the resilience of human nature. Today, the names of the victims affected by the bombing were carved on its base to serve as a memorial.
Bombed Botero Bird in Medellin. Photos by Diego Grandi. Source: Atlas Obscura.
Apart from Singapore and Medellin, another Bird sculpture can be found outside the airport in Florence, Italy. There are also other public accessible sculptures by Botero in Singapore at the St. Regis Hotel, one at the entrance and another near the entrance of Parkview Square.
Botero's Bird near Florence, Italy. Source: Arttrav.
Left: Fernando Botero. Reclining Woman, 2003. Right: Fernando Botero. Dressed Woman, 2003. Photos by Colin Wan.
The Bird sculpture is one of many artworks covered in our Art in the City tour that is available for schools and the public to book. The tour showcases public artworks around the Singapore River, telling us more about the rich history and culture behind them. For enquiries on our current tours, please contact us through our online form.
Which other public artworks in Singapore have left an impression on you? Which would you like to learn more about? Let us know in the comments or through our social media channels on Instagram or Facebook.