Painting the Tiananmen Square Massacre

On 4 June the world remembers the Tiananmen Square Massacre, 25 years ago. One Chinese artist with a vivid memory of that day is Chen Guang. In 1989 he was one of the soldiers sent to suppress the pro-democracy student demonstrations and witnessed the violence that left hundreds dead. The trauma of that day continues to have a profound effect on his life.

Chen Guang 1
Later in 1989 Chen left the People’s Liberation Army to train as an oil painter and over the last two decades he has become one of the most controversial performance artists in China. While the link between his often sexually-explicit performances and the Massacre have not been obvious, in 2009 Chen admitted to being haunted by the incident, conceding that “even if a connection is hard to see, everything I do is touched by that experience”.

In 2009 Chen’s work became more openly political, as he returned to photographs he had taken 20 years earlier in Tiananmen Square as inspiration for a series of paintings. When local galleries refused to exhibit the works, Chen put them online. Several hours later they were removed. Undeterred, earlier this month Chen staged a performance to mark the upcoming 25th anniversary, despite the strict laws forbidding public acknowledgement of the June 4 Massacre. As a result the artist was arrested and currently remains in detention, as the Chinese authorities attempt to prevent any public commemorations from taking place next week.

More of Chen’s work, together with a biography and translated interview, is available here.

Image: Chen Guang in Beijing with two of his Tiananmen Square paintings, 2009. Courtesy The New York Times.

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