The Story Behind the 'Terra Natura' Angels Sculpture in Lujiazui

By Ned Kelly, August 12, 2022

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Springing forth to loom 15 meters above the ground, Wu Ching-ju’s pair of faceless fairies float elegantly above the ground, despite weighing a distinctly un-ethereal 34 tons. 

A homage to Mother Earth and the purity and fragility of nature, ‘Terra Natura’ is one of the biggest copper sculptures in Shanghai. Selected from over 1,000 proposals to become a feature of the Lujiazui Central Greenland, this honor for Wu and the Halcyon Gallery, which represents her, was so considerable that the piece was donated for free, despite costing around RMB20 million to construct.

Wu originally envisioned the fairies encircled by mounds of garbage, and was planning to entitle the work ‘Searching for Oasis.’ Not on your life, said city officials, do you want people to think Shanghai is one big trash heap? 

So the artist had a rethink, and came up with a much more acceptable environmental statement, sans-refuse. Taking 32 months from conceptualization to installation, ‘Terra Natura’ was finally revealed in all its glory on August 12, 2011.

It stayed intact for less than a day. That very night, heavy rain washed off part of the white paint coating the magical beings. As the rainy spell continued, their wings and backs began to yellow and rust stains appeared. Passersby who touched the statue came away with bits of white powder sticking to their palms.

Raising their hands and crying mea culpa, Halcyon Gallery admitted it was due to a lack of forethought concerning weather in Shanghai – perhaps they underestimated just how acidic rainfall here can be. 

Stepping in to rescue their fallen angels, they slapped on a fresh lick of paint, this time of a more durable variety, leaving the fairies bright and gleaming.

For more on Shanghai's statues and sculptures, click here.

For more history stories, click here.

[Image by Nicky Almasy]

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