When the Tiananmen Square massacre took place on the night of June 4, 1989 I had been following the demonstrations and protests leading up to the tragedy for the previous month. It was coincidental at the time that I had been working on a piece about defiance and protest. That work’s main image was to be a Palestinian protester facing down a phalanx of Israeli troops with a rock in his hand. It was inspired by a photo published in the Houston Chronicle and credited to Reuters/United Press International. The total composition and statement were not clear to me at that point stalling progress of the piece.

When the image of “Unknown Rebel” appeared shortly after the massacre a connection clarified; it was a video and photograph by the Associated Press' Jeff Widener. They appeared in print and on the television news. The Rebel was facing down the tanks of the People’s Liberation Army and causing them to move away from him rather then run him down in front of the world's eyes. At that point my momentum shifted gears to respond to the Chinese pro-democracy student-led protesters and the events of Tiananmen Square.

Both protests were important and now seventeen years later Palestine and Israel are still playing out the David and Goliath metaphor! But the horrorific excess of the crack down by the Chinese military that day took place in front of the whole planet with graphic reality evoking disgust and horror. As journalistic venues played out the drama my initial concept seemed right. The image I was using was universal and the Tiananmen Square slaughter evoked a personal need for an immediate cathartic response.

In the printed reports after the massacre I saw the Chinese symbol for the word ‘mourning’, which is pronounced Aye. A Chinese American artist friend, Lisa Schoyer, helped me find the meaning of the symbol. I used the repeated symbol as a series of flags framing the central canvas of the installation.

During the feverish production of the installation I did the following poem.

 

I….
I am one voice
To cry in pain and protest

Eye….
One eye to see
To witness the wrong

Aye….
One universal cry
Humanity across time

To witness the pain
To protest the wrong

 

The installation is shades of black and white and is meant to be a tribute to the photo that inspired me initially and the journalistic coverage of the events in China that pushed the piece to completion. The original image of the Palestinian, as well as images of events at Tiananmen Square, are collaged on the back of the column in the forefront of the installation.

“Aye” was first shown at Frank Martin’s photography studio in Houston, Texas in late June and throughout the summer of 1989. It was photographed and shown with an article by Linda Chadwick in her Houston Post article, “Houston Artist uses Sculpture to Honor Chinese Protesters”, July 9, 1989. The work was not formally exhibited until my personal exhibition at the Russian State Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1996.

Frank Williams, Jule 2006

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