Built by art students, on May 30, 1989, the Goddess of Democracy was erected in Tiananmen Square as a symbol of their call for democratic reforms in China. The gathering protest in Tiananmen Square had begun in mid-April; tension was mounting.
Subsequently, on June 4, 1989, following orders, the People’s Liberation Army put an end to the demonstration. Mayhem ensued.
Although reports varied widely, hundreds, if not thousands, were killed. Made of chicken wire and plaster the Goddess was destroyed during the brutal routing of the protesters that had remained to the end, in defiance. As the drama played out on television, via satellite, the events shocked the world.
As their art student counterparts in China had been murdered in the shadow of their 33-foot-tall sculpture, in Richmond a group of VCU-affiliated artists heard the call of inspiration to stand with those who had fallen. They knew they had to build a replica of the lost Goddess.
The impromptu team of the willing and able worked around the clock for the next couple of days to give form to their tribute to the courage of those who had perished for freedom of expression. While the project was not sponsored by the school, wisely, VCU did nothing to discourage the gesture.
Richmond’s Goddess of Democracy (pictured above and below) stood the same height and was made of the same basic materials as the one in China had been.
Twenty-two years ago, facing Main Street, it stood as a memorial for about a month in front of the student center. CNN had a report on it, as did many other news agencies. Its image was on front pages of newspapers all over the world.
The little placards on sticks that surrounded the sculpture were added a few days after the Goddess was completed. Art-wise, it was one of the coolest things ever to happen in the Fan District. And, to my knowledge, nobody made a penny out of it. It was constructed and maintained entirely by volunteers.
It was also a wonderful illustration of how traditional right and left, liberal and conservative, characterizations of all things political don’t always do justice to the truth of a situation. Was the stubborn and heavy-handed Chinese government standing to the right, or to the left, of the upstart students calling for reform?
When communists are the conservatives clinging to the old way, how does that play out on a spectrum of left-to-right thinking?
The Goddess of Democracy on VCU’s campus in 1989 was the most dignified and most successful piece of guerilla art this scribbler can remember having seen.