Monday, June 9, 2014
"China: June 4, 1989" New Artist Statements - Looking Back, Looking Forward

With AAAC's "China: June 4, 1989" Exhibition soon approaching, we thought we would share some artist statements written especially for the 25th Anniversary Exhibition in commemoration of the Tiananmen Square 1989 Student Movement. These 2014 statements share the view of participating artists as they look back/ look forward from that year of 1989, as well as share what they are involved with now. As more artists submit their statement we will continue to post them to the blog. 

Don't forget the opening reception of "China: June 4, 1989" Exhibition will be this Sunday, June 1st, 5-8pm at Whitebox Art Center. See you there!

John Duff

My piece in this show as well as the previous one just after the event (Tiananmen Square) involves the use of fortune cookies, in my view a popularization of the I Ching. A layer of wet fiberglas was layed down, a cookie was broken, and the fragments as well as the fortune layed down on the wet fiberglas and then covered with a piece of dry fiberglass cloth and then resined, so it collapsed around the fragments (wet into wet) and over the fortune (which had been placed face down) forming a kind of shrink-wrapped pocket. This was done a number of times so that when the resin set up and was lifted up these pockets are seen through the flat plane of the fiberglas. This was all done within the context of a hollow frame door (a theme of the show) the inside of which had been cut out within eight inches of the perimeter. What remained of the door was painted white, and painted in red letters, extending the length of the door vertically on one side and horizontily on the other, the words "BROKEN FOTUNES". This painted door was layed down on wet fiberglass; the activity with the cookies took place within the opening cut-out of the door, and the door was picked up (after the fiberglas set). All could be seen on both sides: the words, the fragments, the fortunes. 

To me, the broken fragments of the fortune cookies represent the broken bodies of the demonstrators and the fortunes their unrealized destinies. To put it another way, on the edge of the door it`s title is written "The Host" , which is to say that the cookie becomes the bread which is transubstantiated into the body of the martyr(s).

Anna Kuo

Tiananmen: Are Body Bags Required?
"I never thought this would happen to happen to me." Today this outcry cycles too often on the news after sudden and shocking events. It's a common lament exclaimed by different people, in different scenarios in different cultures around the globe. It's 2014 and now we're lost in the virtual reality of tech devices. What does it take to wake us out of an anesthetized consciousness and brain overload? Does Tiananmen 1989 have any impact on us? My piece, entitled "Deva Invocation" was a tribute to those who passed and those left behind. More importantly it raises a personal question, "What does Tiananmen mean to me as an individual? How do I locate myself in relation to a disturbing global crisis?" In the tradition of Buddhist awareness, I believe our inner issues and conflicts become a collective energy creating larger events like catastrophic climate change, population uprisings, corruption and war.

The Tiananmen exhibition transforms art into a human aesthetic that historicizes life and becomes a country's material culture. It's a powerful vehicle of communication that supports free dialogue and forward thinking ideas. Typically governments first seek to mute the voices of students and artists when social and political disagreements surface. Must it require piles of body bags for meaningful action?

The Tiananmen rebellion is now part of a historical legacy, a domino in a chain of global events that is changing countries today. Change is constant, the karmic wheel turns and the profoundly humble, fundamental, modest, radical desire for all people is simply happiness and freedom.

For more of Anna Kuo's work see here.

Edgar Heap of Birds

America and the world must remember that forever the Statue of Liberty literally has her back turned to all Native Americans and their sovereign nations.

The welcoming freedom of "Miss Liberty" is not a positive offering to indigenous peoples of this continent; it is an invitation to murder and plunder.

The offering made is one of on going genocide, poverty, deficient educational opportunities, poor housing, very high rates of suicide, lack of political representation and dishonored treaties and promises.

Native nations lost their viability and harmonious human birthright to coexist with this earth after the violence of so-called "Liberty" was perpetrated upon countless indigenous families of these once kind lands. Today Native communities are at a severe status of recovery from brutality and loss. Will they ever truly recuperate and heal from such profound harm in the name of "Freedom"?

In regard to the naive 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstration to accept and promote "Liberty" I would instead extend a vigorous warning and alarm!

Edgar Heap of Birds
A Leader of the Traditional Elk Warrior Society
Cheyenne Nation, Oklahoma 2014

Jean-Loup Msika

In 1989, we were horrified by the violent repression of chinese students, on Tienanmen square, when they asked for a little freedom.

Today, in 2014, Tibet is being invaded, more and more, and crushed, and so is Sin Kiang. Both Tibetans and Ouighours are repressed savagely. The Kurdish people would also deserve to be independent but their land is divided between Iran, Irak, Syria and Turkey, 4 murderous dictatorships. The Jewish people, on the tiny land which has been theirs for millennia, is still being threatened of a new holocaust by totalitarian regimes like the Islamic Republic of Iran and by Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists. People are killing each other by the thousands, in Africa, in Syria, Irak, Egypt, Ukraine, etc ... The world is in a bloodbath because the UN are useless and corrupt, controlled by the worst dictatorships. This is all very sad...

Ian Laughlin

The Tiananmen Square events of June 4th, 1989 sparked global outcry, solidifying the power of action against oppression.

For the nucleus of my work, having watched the events on television over and over, I digitized stills from video footage of Tiananmen events, much the same way Chinese authorities did in identifying individuals who participated in the uprising.

Using the imaging tools of the time, I scanned footage using an Amiga 1000 then printed the stills out in banner form using a Canon 1080A. Co-opting the image of a placard-style Mao, typified in Chinese state propaganda stadium art, I supplanted his visage with facially recognizable images of students who took part in the uprising. Crowds of protesters with the Stateʼs inherent "amnesia directive” was declared on the verso.

I feel this work I created in 1989 is just as relevant today. Following Tiananmen, surveillance has expanded globally and exponentially, as the demand for peopleʼs self-determination has collided with Oligarch and Totalitarian States. Now the battle of the old wealth world and empire is in full swing against climate change responders and human rights activists.

Agnes Denes









Lotus Do

At the end of March 1989, I returned from an Art Exchange in the Guangdong Fine Arts Academy. Having taught art classes and lectured to unusually large art student groups on abstract compositional elements and creative problem solving techniques, my work was exhibited at the Guangdong Fine Arts Academy. The privilege of leading the American delegation of artist educators was my second participation an International Art Exchange with China. Artists, faculty, and students became fast friends; eager to learn about progressive methods of art making and art education. What a wonderful time we had learning from each other, enjoying the love of visual art and discussing creative ideas with artistic freedom. Upon returning to the USA, I maintained communication and friendships with my overseas colleagues. I happily shared news stories with them of the student movement (in China) that we were learning about.

It is my understanding that many of my new friends may have been supportive of the movement. But to this day, I cannot feel comfortable telling you this for sure!

On June 4th 1989, traumatized, I watch news images, in horror.

Personally I was deeply struck by the violent nature of the proceedings. I could not shake the personal shock.

The second painting I made personified the idealism I had witnessed in China in the faces of Artists and students I met. The first side of the door portrayed the tragedy of death swathed in an upside down anonymous body that was only implied by the news reports. I haven't seen this painted door in 20 years but the painting of it personifies The Unknown Idealist -Struck down -Swathed under the purity of a white robe or a sheet. I remember wanted to paint everything on the flip side- upside down. A world turned awry. I remember the sadness as I painted the door. I remember The Asian American Art Center as a rallying place for artists of all backgrounds to respond to what happened and to do something to bring awareness to the human rights of the young people who wanted to make a better place in their world. The Asian American Art Center promoted awareness that all people have the right to express their feelings and ideas.

Thanks to the life-long dedicated work and vision of Bob Lee for it was he who inspired his artist friends in the USA to do something!

Grimanesa Amorós

It was an honor to be a part of such an important exhibition. It was very exciting and at the same time painful times to be a part of China's history. A country that at the present moment go every year at least twice to share my work or lectures with students.

I am glad to say that all the lives we lost on Tiananmen Square open the doors for a new generation of children that are now growing under a very different reality that in 1989.

Dolly Unithan


Observed by the world, a travesty of justice occurred on June 4, 1989 at Tiananmen Square in Beijing when purportedly several hundred if not thousands of city inhabitants and students who staged a peaceful mass protest for democratic reform were massacred by the Chinese Government military tanks in a hail of bullets which annihilated countless numbers of those who took a firm but fatal stand, after the failed attempt of the government in demanding the evacuation and dispersing of the square from the growing throng of dissident occupants.

Although the rumbling military tanks with smoking guns and silenced voices of innocent victims are a long gone aftermath of the massacre, the unholy act with what must be indescribable accompanying images will linger long and haunt our halls of memory till injustice is addressed and till justice is served and done, till an acknowledgement of a grave mistake of great magnitude made and significantly meaningful acts of reparation to be made in approaches only China knows how best to proceed, will the perpetrator of such an ignominious action regain its powerful presence and growing global standing in the eyes of the World.

A mighty country as China may potentially grow to be in some many ways, this act of infamy with its bloody spill will seep and stain the tapestry of her turbulent human rights history and will contribute to her being viewed in the eyes of the World to be much less mighty a country.


When news of the final outcome of the peaceful staged protest at Tiananmen Square hit me, I went limp as my legs buckled under and I sank to the ground, feeling nothing even as my mind grappled to absorb what had occurred and to make sense of it.

The enactment of the unthinkable and the unspeakable had come to pass.

Zhang Hongtu

"Every Action Helps Us to Remember"

When I was a student in the 1950s, we trusted Mao. We believed that if we followed his ideas, not only would we change China, but we would also achieve world peace and end American imperialism. But after Mao’s actions against the Chinese people in the Cultural Revolution, and my experience of being exiled from the city and sent down to the countryside to work with farmers (along with millions of other teenagers), my trust soured into doubt and critique.

In 1982 I left China for New York to make art. Chinese art was still dominated by socialist realism, the style approved by the Ministry of Culture. I have always strived to make art that not only is pleasing to the eye but also shows my ideas about society. So in those early years I forgot everything that happened in China. I didn’t care about my nationality, identity, style or tradition. I just wanted to learn and do something new.

Then, in May 1989, I saw that people had started demonstrating and going on hunger strikes in Tiananmen Square. As the protests continued, I discovered that I was still very much Chinese. I was glued to the TV screen and recorded the news when I went to sleep. I didn’t want to miss anything, because if I were in China I would have been on strike too. For those few days, I think the people at Tiananmen felt free. A protest like that had never happened before in China’s history, and I have no idea if it will happen in the future.

After the Tiananmen crackdown, my art became more political, which led me to paint The Last Banquet and the door for the exhibition “China: June 4, 1989.” My friend told me that in China I would have been killed many times over for The Last Banquet. This only encouraged me further because in the United States I had the freedom to make this kind of art. I started cutting out iconic images of Mao from burlap, canvas, plywood and other materials. I still remember how carving out his likeness felt like a sin the first time. In China this act would be seen as “antirevolutionary” and severely punished—you simply can’t criticize Mao. But I kept cutting his image out of different materials as a form of therapy, until one day I stopped feeling bad about it.

People criticized me for not making “pure art” and said my art was a tool for politics, but I didn’t care, because these politics were my honest and true feelings. Every June 4, I think about 1989 and activist organizations like the Tiananmen Mothers—the parents and relatives of the youth killed that day who advocate for the government to admit its responsibility for the deaths. Meanwhile the party has continued to suppress any critiques about Tiananmen, the Cultural Revolution or Chairman Mao. My own website was even blocked in China for a few years. (It’s up now, but who knows how long that will last?)

Since the Chinese government prohibits all dissent, we must carry on here in the United States. In recent years I have posted images about the Tiananmen crackdown on Facebook each June 4 to remind people of what happened. Every action helps us to remember the students who were killed as well as their mothers, who are still struggling against a government that censors the anniversary of their children’s deaths.

Dina Burzstyn

My work stems from a need to recreate the world around me, to envision a less fragmented and more humane reality. Working with clay I often feel it is like a sensitive skin, receptive to emotions and transformations, which in turn serves to transform me. I made this piece inspired by a line from the I Ching "Holding together amidst dispersion", believing the desire and struggle for a just society can not be broken. More of Dina's work can be found here.
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