What do you get if you cross a lamb with a banana and blow up the resulting hybrid to be 17 feet tall? It's an obvious answer; you get a Superlambanana of course, what else?
Way back in 1998 the first lambanana was created by a US-based Japanese artist called Taro Chiezo as a 4 inch sculpture. By some crazy twists of fate, ten years later the original had grown to become the iconic emblem of Liverpool's tenure as the 2008 European City of Culture – not bad for a critter created by a Japanese living in Manhattan.
Superlambananas combine a whole bunch of local references into one funny little joke of an animal. Apparently the creature serves as warning about the risks of genetic modification whilst the glance to the past pulls together two of the cargos traded through the port of Liverpool in its heyday – bananas from Fyffes and sheep's wool. You don't have to understand the Superlambanana philosophy to enjoy seeing them.
The original Liverpool Superlambanana was 17 feet tall and weighed eight tons and showed up for the opening of the Tate Gallery in Albert Dock way back in 1998. Since that time the big one has moved around the city, appearing in different places at different times. I haven't seen the big yellow Superlambanana but I have seen plenty of photos in the Museum of Liverpool. There are cities where it would be unthinkable to place something so strange in a public space but the people of Liverpool have long been proud of their collective sense of humour. When the European City of Culture came to Liverpool it didn't take too much of a brain-stretch to see the potential of the city's favourite hybrid animal and 125 Mini Superlambananas (the juxtaposition of 'mini' and 'super' seems to be entirely intentional) were created, each of them decorated differently.
Each of the Mini Superlambananas stands two meters high and was sponsored by a local business during the summer of 2008. Two escaped from the city and were to be found in other areas – one on a Welsh mountain and one in London at Euston station. The Mini Superlambanans seem to get moved around the city, cropping up in different places at different times, just like the big Superlambana which has even been repainted in different colours for special occasions such as the time it was painted pink to support a breast cancer charity.
If you want to see some Superlambananas, then I recommend the area around the Museum of Liverpool, close to the Albert Dock. Each is painted differently and you can find a small flock of four of them neatly lined up outside the museum and at various places within the building. I missed the events of the European City of Culture but I'd heard about the Superlambananas and was really pleased to learn that I could still find them four years later. During the festival maps were produced so that visitors could do a tour of the city and find all of the mini Superlambananas but today many have been sold off to private collectors or have been moved from their original sites.
The four outside the Museum of Liverpool stand with their tails towards the Albert Dock and their noses towards the Liver Building. The one at the front is decorated like a clown with a big red nose and exaggerated clown make up and a bow tie. The next in line has a more pastoral design with multiple little Superlambananas frolicking in green fields. The third combines images of life above and below the sea and the final one has a war memorial feel about it, with the creature wearing a khaki uniform and military beret and covered in painted poppies.
The most expensive and valuable of the Superlambananas stands inside the museum on the top floor. It's called Mandy Mandala Superlambanana and was designed as an emblem of peace. It is decorated in a cloissonne or mosaic style and was bought by Liverpool culture guru, Phil Redmond (the man who created iconic TV shows such as Grange Hill and Brookside) for £25,000 and subsequently donated to the museum.
Whether you go to Liverpool with a mission to hunt down Superlambananas or just stumble across one by accident and wonder what it is, it's worth knowing a little bit about their background. I hope this review has helped you to do that and don't forget to take your camera.