2012, Oil on Linen, 100 x 100cm
Finalist, Redland Art Awards 2012
On the surface, the China of 1989 was a very different country to the China of today. Everyone still wore Mao suits and there were bike jams, not traffic jams.
Visiting my sister (who was doing her PhD in Beijing), we stayed in the university dorms. The uni walls contained bullet holes from the Cultural Revolution and the footpaths of nearby streets were occupied by billiard tables. Throughout the day, old men would take their pet birds for a “walk”, slowly carrying ornate wooden cages down the street. Hanging the cages in the trees, they would play a few rounds of outdoor pool with their mates, then “walk” their birds home again.
That these birds were out and about, perched in trees, but at the same time still in cages, seemed indicative of the plight of the populace in those months leading up to the Tiananmen Square protests. Somehow it seemed worse to be able to glimpse freedom and not experience it, than to not see it at all.
And while Beijing has been rebuilt as a modernist city, in terms of freedom, little appears to have changed. However history has shown that when the infrastructure of control is so overt, inevitably it fails to achieve the very goals for which it was created.