"A memorial to the murdered students of Beijing, VCU Student Center, Richmond, Va., USA. Fabricated by a team of artists in the days following the massacre in Tiananmen Square, it stood 33 feet tall, just as the original in Beijing."
The statue, which faced Main Street, was made of light, non-permanent materials. It mimicked the similar sculpture the Chinese students constructed during their protest. The one in Richmond stayed up for about a month, it was shown on CNN and in newspapers worldwide. Below the caption in that same issue, SLANT ran the text of a handbill that I had found posted at the site of the VCU memorial:
"On May 13, 1989, Beijing University students began an occupation of Tiananmen Square to call for democratic reforms and an end to official corruption. The ensuing peaceful and often festive protest drew world attention and gained support from the citizens and workers of Beijing. On Sunday, June 4, at 3:30 [a.m.] Chinese time, troops of the 27th Division of the People’s Liberation Army entered the square with orders to disperse the students. At approximately 6 a.m. these same troops attacked the protestors with automatic weapons, tanks, and bayonets. According to government estimates only 300 students were killed, but local medical estimates put the death toll between 500 and 1,000.
"The brutal suppression of unarmed students by a powerful totalitarian government has moved the world’s conscience. Many of the Tiananmen victims were art students who aspired to same basic freedoms which we enjoy daily. As American artists we cannot overlook, and we must never forget, the suffering and sacrifice of our brothers and sisters in Beijing. Their peaceful struggle was a cry for human rights everywhere, and their symbol, the Goddess of Democracy, was the highest artistic tribute they could pay to humanity’s noblest ideal -- freedom."
The handbill didn’t mention the obvious, which should be underlined now anyway -- the goddesses were both modeled after America’s Statue of Liberty.
Also in that issue of SLANT were stories of a lighter nature. There was a piece about the then-bubbling NEA/Mapplethorpe controversy that had Sen. Jesse Helms flapping in the breeze. There was coverage of the Fan District Softball League -- the Bamboo Cafe led the Mars Division; Chetti’s led the Jupiter Division.
There was a blurb that cited SLANT’s Top Five favorite Richmond-based bands for the decade that was the 1980s: They were the Bopcats, the Good Guys, the Good Humor Band, House of Freaks and the Orthotonics.
Among that issue's advertisers were: 353-ROCK, Blab Television, the Brass Knocker, Brown Distributing, Bug Haus, Chetti’s, Fan Market, Paradise Cafe, Price’s Market, Soble’s and South of the James. Only Brown still exists today. So, that issue was also a snapshot of the times. That Goddess of Democracy, which was designed and erected by a dedicated group of Fan District volunteer artists working around the clock, was one of the coolest things that ever happened in my neighborhood, art-wise. In 1989 I couldn't believe the university and the City of Richmond were allowing it. There must have been a thousand regulations and liability concerns that went overlooked, because of the righteousness of the undertaking.
Remembering that unique tribute to freedom, I wish SLANTblog's readers a happy and safe Independence Day.