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.
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.
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.