Few people can forget June fourth, 1989, the night that unarmed, non-violent students and intellectuals were mowed down by tanks and hard-line communism in Tiananmen Square - the "square of the door to heavenly peace." The uprising against the "immobile empire" was short-lived, yet heralded similar revolutions in Rumania and Czechoslovakia, and inspired Poland, East Germany, and us all.
Montreal acupuncturist Dr Pei Yuan Han felt that the Chinese students and the struggle for political freedom they have come to represent should be commemorated on the tragedy's anniversary. Han has organized and financed Goya to Beijing, a mammoth, multi-media exhibition on artistic expression as a vehicle for political commentary.
Goya and the politically responsive tradition of his work is an appropriate metaphor for the show. Han issued a challenge to the invited artists to present what Goya would create if he were alive.
Twenty-one "most wanted" contemporary artists are participating the number of students on the Chinese government's most wanted list. As there were many more students arrested during the June rebellion, Han hopes that more artists will be "arrested" as the exhibition travels. "My idea and hope is to have this exhibition travel to other cities and countries, and in ten years to have it show in Beijing, after which it will be given as a memento to the Chinese people."
There is a definite global overview in this show, but varied cultural and political backgrounds are represented. Exhibiting artists from outside the western world offers a rare opportunity to experience different artistic languages. Han points out that the Chinese people, for example, have a different sense of poetry, and so they protest, through art, in a different way than we might be accustomed to in the Occident.
Although dedicated to and inspired by the students of Tiananmen Square, the theme is more specifically the relationship of art to politics. Not all the pieces relate directly to last June's events so much as the spirit of the revolt.
Works range from a video installation by Nam June Paik, a huge drawing of the massacre by Nancy Spero, works on paper by Jenny Holzer, and a light projection piece by Krzystof Wodiczko made in collaboration with an anonymous Chinese woman. The artists from China are anonymous to protect family in the country. Most of this group were in the western world on June 4th and decided not to return to China.
The list of luminaries just doesn't quit, and there is strong work by local artists as well. Betty Goodwin has created a large sculpture of welded metal sheets that resembles its title, Cleaver. A fragment of a quotation she once read "to obliterate great chunks of reality" has become the sub-title, as well as the inspiration for this piece. "I made an immediate connection with this line and the student rebellion, for it is exactly what the government of China did 'erased chunks of reality' by trying to repress information about the revolt, particularly within China itself."
Jana Sterbak, also Montreal based, left Czechoslovakia in 1968 after the repression of the democratic uprising there. She felt a great deal of sympathy for the aborted revolt in China, for the outbreak of riots and demonstrations that led to the ousting of the Communist party in her native country was instigated by the beating death of a student by state police.
Sterbak is exhibiting a piece called Bronze Tongue, inspired by the torture of Protestants in Bohemia in the 17th century. She sees this show as an important way of, raising political consciousness. "Even if only one person is converted, this will be worth all the effort. The students who demonstrated and died at Tiananmen made us so aware of the repression there. They are a moral example to all of us."
Jana relates a story about an ant-hill that caught fire. The ants formed a big ball and rolled down the ant-hill. Many of those closest to the fire on the outside died, but those in the middle lived.
For Jana, this encapsulates the massacre at Tiananmen though many died, the ball has begun rolling that may see others reach the bottom in freedom.
Goya to Beijing June 1-July 29 at , CIAC, Place du Parc. "Art and Politics" free symposium June 2, 10h-17h, Hotel du Parc. Topics include Russian avant-garde, Goya, Surrealism, art and politics in China. A fund-raising banquet will be held that evening.