SF artist keeps Tiananmen Square exhibit open despite anonymous warning from Chinese social media

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- At the Chinese Culture Center in San Francisco, artist Stella Zhang's work, based on her memories of the Tiananmen Square protests, is on display. But last week, Zhang nearly took it all down.

Zhang says the week before the 30th anniversary of the 1989 massacre in Beijing, she received an anonymous message on a Chinese social media site warning her about her exhibit.

"It just read a couple very simple sentences: 'I know you have an exhibition in San Francisco. I hope you care about your county and yourself,'" Zhang said. "I got so scared."

Zhang said when she responded asking who the messenger was, the message disappeared.

"It was like a ghost," Zhang explained. "I don't know where it come from. I don't know who they are."

Fearing for her safety, Zhang says she contemplated removing her exhibit. But instead, she is keeping it up and is turning the fear into her message.

"The only thing I can do is put my true feeling in my work," she said.

Zhang was an art student during the June 4, 1989 4 protests when Chinese troops stormed Tiananmen Square in Beijing and fired at the pro-Democracy demonstrators.

Zhang had been in the square that day, but was back at her dorm when the violence started.

"We heard the noise, the gun noise everywhere," she recalled. "I had never been so scared."

And yet, Zhang says, she was proud. It was her classmates who created the iconic "Goddess of Democracy" statue used during the protests. The statue has since become a global symbol of defiance and a replica even stands in Portsmouth Square in San Francisco's Chinatown.

"Chinatown has always been a safe space for the community for immigrants and refugees," said Jenny Leung, the Interim Director of the Chinese Culture Center. "And that statue was really emblematic of that."

But Zhang says not enough has changed in 30 years in her home country. Her work, which is part of an exhibit at the Chinese Culture Center called the "Task of Remembrance," incorporates black tape to symbolize the work she believes still needs to be done.

"You don't feel the freedom to talk. You don't feel freedom to present your art like you want to," Zhang said, "So that's the tape meaning."

The exhibit opened in April and will open to the public through late December.

"We all see that 1989, for some reason, it was a moment for change whether globally, with the Tiananmen Square incident, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and locally with the Loma Prieta earthquake," said Hoi Leung, who curated the "Task of Remembrance" exhibit.

"There's some kind of psychological or physical tremor that we want to help people unpack."

Click here for more information on Present Tense: Task of Remembrance.
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