Krava Cows
The Prague Cow Parade

"Kráva! dvacet dva!, a high pitched voice cut through a background of mooing children as they hurried off the public tram and sped towards a statue of a cow. The young boy had just found his 22nd cow. Prague is full of cows these days, 218 to be exact, and this artful cow parade will grace its streets and parks until September 30th. Walking, grazing and sometimes lying down, these colorful cows can be found scattered across the landscape by ones, by twos and in small to medium-sized herds.

The CowParade project began in Zurich, Switzerland in 1998 as a local event aimed to increase business and tourism. Due to its success the project was expanded and now Chicago, New York, Sydney, Houston, London and Brussels are just a few of the 18 cities that have played host to the world's largest public art event. Each of the life-sized fiberglass cow sculptures is financed by a corporate or government sponsor and then decorated by selected local artists who have been chosen from hundreds of applicants.

Many of the participating artists are personalities from the world of entertainment, art and design. Some of the best known include the actors, Ana Geislerová and Marek Vachut, singers Karel Gott and Dara Rollins, Glass Designer Bojak Šipek, and Fashion Designer Osmany Laffita. Former president and playwright Vacláv Havel also designed a cow, sponsored by DHL, which was unveiled on July 8.

Each cow is decorated according to the whims of the artist and cows can be found that treat every concept imaginable. There are mermaid cows, luxury cows, psychedelic cows and even a panelák cow. While many of the artistic themes treat the cow as a canvas on which a design, concept or idea can be communicated, and others simply dress up the cow as if the parade were some sort of cow masquerade, perhaps the most remarkable designs are those in which the cow becomes a sculpture which transcends its bovinal state and achieves a higher form of expression.

On May 30th, attendees at the opening ceremony for the Prague CowParade were asked to vote for their favorite cow. First prize went to "KRÁVA V DAVU" (a cow in the crowd), designed by : Alexandra Švolíková and sponsored by Šamonil s.r.o. Second place was awarded to the "Zsa Zsa Cowbor", a cow that was decorated by fashion designer Osmany Laffita, and inspired by the famous actress and former Miss Hungary, Zsa Zsa Gabor.

In a creative "first" for the cow parade project, the Dutch Ambassador to the Czech Republic suggested that each of the 25 member nations of the European Community should sponsor a cow; an additional 26th cow being designed to represent the EU as whole. Since July 1, this EU herd can be seen in Kampa Park. Other cows can be found throughout Prague. A downloadable map can be found on the official website or purchased in the official store on Wenceslas Square.

Although the Prague edition of the CowParade project is noteworthy for its inclusion of the EU cows welcoming the Czech Republic to the EU, it also has risen to the forefront for less constructive reasons. In fact, of the 18 cities that have hosted the CowParade project, Prague has experienced the highest rate of mischief. Cows have been found vandalized, covered with graffiti or moved from their original location. Most recently, perhaps in a misguided experiment to learn whether or not cows can swim, the "Petra" cow was found floating in the Vltava river. And during the night of June 8th, the "Romeo 23" cow was so severely beaten that the next day it was found with holes in it. This memorable cow was designed to evoke the Russian tank 23 (the legendary tank No. 23 that was once displayed on a pedestal at námestí Kinských in memory of the soldiers of the Red Army who died during the liberation of Czechoslovakia). The tank itself was painted bright pink by the well-known artist, David Cerný in the early nineties. It was then restored to its original hue until, after Cerný´s arrest, a group of federal parliamentarians demonstrated their solidarity by repainting the tank pink. In the face of Russian protests and communist defacement of American memorials, a decision was finally made to remove the tank completely, So it is not really surprising that placing a cow on the same spot has revived the old controversy.

When asked why Prague has been so hard on the cows, Blanka Neumanová of the Prague Cow Parade project says that the organizers believe that many of these acts of vandalism are alcohol-related and that the culprits are probably evenly split between tourists and locals. But vandalized cows are quickly repaired and a full time staff of 4-5 people are employed to retrieve and repair damaged cows.

Once the CowParade has ended sponsors will have the option of paying an additional fee to purchase their cows and approximately 35 selected cows will be sold at auction by the international auction house Sotheby's to raise money for children's charities. Other cows will be sold in an online auction.

Many cities around the world are hosting the CowParade this summer and three cities in South Africa will join in the Fall. So if you happen to be in Manchester, Stockholm, Cape Town, Johannesburg, or Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in the near future, be sure to pay the cows a visit, maybe the 23rd will inspire you to make a contribution of your own.

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