An interview with Jiji Panda
In China, the national symbol is not a dragon, a Ming dynasty urn, or a red star, but a cute animal- the giant panda. Infamous worldwide for their generally docile nature and overwhelming cuteness, pandas have even been sent to other countries from China as big greeting cards of peace, a practice the media termed “Panda Diplomacy.” As of this article, they are still listed as an endangered species. However, a new species of panda is breeding successfully, in fashion and cute goods sites all over the world, and he doesn’t eat bamboo and loaf around, smiling. His inclinations tend more towards noodles, Andy Warhol, and global goods domination.
This cartoon panda, simply named “Panda” or “Grumpy Panda,” is the creation of Jiji, a relatively young artist who first studied fine arts in college before progressing to industrial design at JiaoTong University of Shanghai. Since Y2K, Jiji’s Panda and his Hi Panda clothing brand have become immensely popular in their native China, with nearly 50 shops in almost all major Chinese cities. Panda is also garnering international acclaim: in 2008, 3 of Jiji’s panda sculptures were exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and a recent exhibit of Panda pandemonium at the Palais de Tokyo drew in Pharrell, Kanye, and Anna Wintour on opening night. One of the paintings shown there was of an ecstatic Panda popping out of a Warhol soup can, with the words “Hello Panda – I like tomato soup” on the label. Too informed for a mere Engrish pop-art misfire, and too goofy to be “serious”, in the ushering in of Hello Panda’s Warhol from Shanghai to the contemporary Parisian art/Tokyo space we may have arrived at a truly unknown cultural junction: neither low-brow ploy or high-brow cultural commentary, Panda may be the harbinger of the no-brow, the uni-brow.
Asian cute goods have been popular since their inception in the early 70′s, when Sanrio, until then a kawaii branding agency for the Japanese finance industry, began making stationery emblazoned with Hello Kitty. Fast forward twenty years and we have bigshot coolster Nigo, who’s A Bathing Ape (BAPE) clothing line singularly gives birth to both the idea of “gangster cute” and the “limited-edition” goods phenomenon that has powered so much of the modern development of “streetwear culture.” The streetwear/cute goods industry has relied on China this entire time to produce its oeuvre of in-demand threads and trinkets, but China itself has not really been an individual voice in this material movement until Panda emerged. Panda may look and feel somewhat Japanese, but he is all Chinese business at half the cost of the competition.
Panda is shamelessly half Hello Kitty and half Bape Bearbrick. Hello Panda is post-Bape. Jiji is post-Nigo. A Bathing Ape’s appropriated “Ape Shall Never Kill Ape” tagline has been appropriated and appended to a blunt “Panda Never Kill Panda.” Where Nigo is a live Wikipedia of cartoon sci-fi reference and million-dollar ice cream diamond chains, Jiji is practical in all black Panda gear with hot pink sneakers. And Pharrell, himself an outward friend and collaborator of Nigo’s, stops by to give dap in Paris. The point is that the Panda is changing the game, with friendly prices and great design. And theirs very strong hints that Hi Panda and Jiji will soon be coming Stateside. So Panda doesn’t need to be cute; in fact, he is very pissed-off, regardless of what he’s doing, and you still like him.
Panda’s a bazillionaire from all of the goods he sells, but like any other sensible mainland Panda, he rides a bicycle and eats noodles. He just started rapping and djing, and maybe he’s not as good as you, but he’s raw, authentic, and strangely accessible. Plus those turntables and that mic were proudly made in China, so by default you gotta give him the benefit of the doubt. Technically, if it wasn’t for him, you wouldn’t even have the opportunity.
To check out more of Jiji’s Panda: http://www.hellopanda.net/