Russian artist behind leopard cat designs to visit Taiwan

Russian artist behind leopard cat designs for TRA accepts invitation to visit Taiwan

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Molodtsova (left). (Image from facebook.com/tmeccc)

Molodtsova (left). (Image from facebook.com/tmeccc)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- The Russian designer whose artwork had been allegedly plagiarized Thursday (Aug. 29) accepted an official invitation by the government to visit Taiwan.

The artist, Katya Molodtsova, told CNA that she has received so many Facebook friend requests over the past few days that she cannot cope with them and she had to turn off her cellphone. She said she was surprised by the enthusiastic response from the Taiwanese people and was glad the incident gave her a chance to get to know the leopard cats (石虎) and Taiwan better.

In a telephone interview with CNA, she stated that she became aware of the controversy after Taiwanese netizens informed her through social media on Aug. 23. Molodtsova said that although using stock images is not uncommon in the design industry, she said she was surprised to see her stock image used for a government design, and that it was her "first time to see this."

However, Molodtsova said that without this incident, she would not have learned so much about the leopard cat and Taiwan. She told the news agency that after she heard about the news, she began using online translation tools to read a lot of information related to Taiwan and leopard cats.


(Leopard cat illustration by Molodtsova)

She said that she learned about the endangered feline, the problem with the cats being struck by cars, and the efforts made by various organizations to try to protect the animal. She said that she, "Happily carried out research for several days," and that she carefully analyzed photographs of leopard cats to understand their characteristics and behavior.

Molodtsova said she was later contacted by a Taiwan conservation group who asked her to draw a new leopard cat design. She said that she had also been considering designing a series of images of leopard cats to "make everyone happy" in Taiwan, so she readily agreed and finished the designs within two days.

The Facebook page JumpStray shared Molodtsova's new illustrations and wrote that she had learned that Taiwan's leopard cat is facing a survival crisis and stood with the Taiwanese people in protecting it. Many netizens praised the images and they quickly went viral on social media.


(Leopard cat illustration by Molodtsova)

On Thursday, Molodtsova visited Taiwan's representative office in Moscow, Russia. On a Facebook post released that evening, the office thanked her for her "heartwarming move to illustrate a leopard cat design for Taiwan," and announced that she had officially accepted Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Chia-lung's (林佳龍) invitation to visit Taiwan in late-September.

Molodtsova joked that in recent days, her Instagram and Facebook social media pages have been flooded with comments and private messages, with more than 800 Facebook invitations alone. "I can't return them; I always accept or reply to friend invitations, and my mobile phone always fails," said Molodtsova to CNA.

She said that she was very surprised and moved by the Taiwanese people's love of her works. She told the news agency, "I never expected to hear that I have a group of fans in Taiwan."


(Leopard cat illustration by Molodtsova)

Molodtsova said that her trip to Taiwan in September would be her first time visiting the country, and she had never been to Asia. Before the leopard cat controversy, she said, she had limited knowledge of Taiwan, but has become impressed by the late director Edward Yang's (楊德昌) films.

Molodtsova said that in the process of studying relevant information about Taiwan, she learned that the country has many national parks and beautiful natural scenery, the people are generally friendly, and the government has also granted visa waivers to Russian nationals for stays of up to 21 days. She excitedly said that she is now busy planning her trip.

The controversial images of "leopard cats" were placed inside trains running the Jiji Line (集集線) between Changhua and Nantou counties as part of a project jointly sponsored by the Tourism Bureau and Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA). However, the design has been blasted for looking more like a leopard than a Taiwanese leopard cat, reported the CNA.


Controversial TRA design (left). (TRA Facebook photo). Shutter stock images of leopards (right).

Some netizens noticed that the feline in the artwork looked a lot more like a leopard than a leopard cat and contacted Chiang Meng-chih (江孟芝), the Taiwanese designer behind the project, on social media about the discrepancy. Chiang initially replied that she had just simplified the characteristics of the leopard cat and the result was that it happened to look more like a leopard.

However, other netizens noticed identical clipart on the paid stock image site Shutterstock. They traced the artwork to Molodtsova, who said that the creatures were indeed leopards and not leopard cats.

Chiang was then criticized for allegedly plagiarizing Molodtsova's illustrations of leopards. Chiang later admitted the image was bought from Shutterstock but denied allegations that she was a copycat, wrote the China Times.