San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Imagine That: John Lennon statue unveiled in downtown San José

Hundreds filled downtown San José’s Plaza Artigas across from La Iglesia de la Soledad on Friday night for the unveiling of a John Lennon statue designed by Cuban sculptor José Ramón Villa and titled ‘Imagine all the people living life in peace.’

Some challenged the sculpture because of Lennon’s 1966 statement that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.” The statue’s location is the same place where Costa Ricans protested famous quartet and burned merchandise following the comment’s publication. Opponents also voiced concern that the statue did not replicate a Costa Rican figure nor was it designed by a local artist.

That opposition was not evident at Friday night’s ceremony, which followed a concert featuring Beatles cover bands Revolution and The Beagirls as well as a brass quintet from the San José Symphony Orchestra.

People waving camera phones and a handful of Lennon look-alikes surrounded the statue before its unveiling. San José Mayor Johnny Araya encouraged the crowd to continue supporting culture by taking advantage of public spaces. 

“It’s been said a million times that a city without culture doesn’t have a soul,” Araya said. “We’re working to attract tourists to more than volcanoes and beaches but also to our capital. Now people can come here to have their photo taken with John Lennon whose message of peace identifies with our country.”

That’s the scene that unfolded over the weekend as hundreds of Ticos and tourists alike seized the photo opportunity. Youngsters curiously clamored over the statue as parents and grandparents smiled and flashed peace signs.

The statue was proposed a year and a half ago by Mauricio Vargas, who says he became a Beatles fan at the age of four. Vargas is active in Beatles clubs around the world and promotes Meet the Beatles, a twice weekly radio program broadcast by Radio U 101.9.

“I got a call last Wednesday from the mayor’s office telling me that the statue would be unveiled on Friday. It’s a good that they waited to tell me, I wouldn’t have been able to keep it to myself,” Vargas said. “Lennon was always outspoken and never said anything but peace and love.”

Three giggling women stopped to enjoy the statue Sunday afternoon, but declined to have their photo taken for a newspaper. The ladies feared how the church might react to the photo.

Vargas recognized the controversy surrounding the statue but said the message transcends religions and nations.

“Art and culture is what makes people better. Maybe next time it will be a statue of Fidel Gamboa,” said Vargas, referencing the recently-deceased lead singer of Costa Rican band MalPais. “The message of peace is the same no matter what country it comes from.” 

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