Historical Tiananmen Square Photos in Kendal Gallery

Currently in the Kendal Gallery through December 4th are the photographs of Zhou Yan, who witnessed and documented the historic events that took place in Tiananmen Square. 

In 1989, Zhou Yan was a lecturer at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in downtown Beijing, where he received his Master’s degree in Art History. The academy was a fifteen-minute walk to Tiananmen Square. The photographs he took at that time recorded mainly activities by CAFA students and faculty prior to the June 4th incident.

Students at Beijing’s CAFA spent four days and three nights creating a 30-foot-tall sculpture (the Goddess of Democracy), which combined the Statue of Liberty with Socialist realism. The Goddess was unveiled in Tiananmen Square on May 30, 1989.  Zhou Yan’s photos captured this and also students painting banners, addressing the crowd at Tiananmen, the demonstrations, the student hunger strike, and confrontations between citizens and troops.

Zhou Yan recounts, “The memory of these events is inscribed on my heart and can never be erased. It was the greatest political movement in the history of the People’s Republic of China, and I witnessed and participated in it. All of my photographs were developed and enlarged after I came to the United States – and have become my lifetime treasure. Every time I look at them, I am moved, as the history remains as fresh in my memory as if it happened yesterday.”

The definition of the word, Tiananmen, is “Gate of Heavenly Peace”, but during that period in1989 the definition did not apply.  A demand for democracy and transparency from peaceful demonstrating Chinese students, to the communist government, ended in what was called the Tiananmen Massacre. Estimates of the death toll ranged from several hundred to thousands, and as many as 10,000 people were arrested during and after the protests.

This show is dedicated to Arn Lewis, who was a friend of Zhou Yan’s for many years. Arn organized an exhibit of these photographs in his gallery at The College of Wooster in 1999. After moving to Kendal at Oberlin, he introduced Zhou Yan to members of the Kendal Art Committee and recommended that they show these works in the Kendal Gallery . We, at Kendal, are grateful to him and to Zhou Yan for making this possible.