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Jia Yao
2013 Ai WeiWei Award Winner
P.H. Tuan Annual Charles B. Wang AAC Photo Contest

On April 22, 2013, the Port Jefferson Documentary Series presented "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" at the Wang Asian American Center. In the audience was Jia Yao. He came out of it shaking his head saying, "That was really good. Amazing." More importantly, he had a new perspective on what he could accomplish with his photography.

The previous year he had been a winner in the P.H. Tuan Annual Charles B. Wang Asian American Center Photo Contest with an offbeat photo of his face floating in the sky above the Center. Its silvery pagoda tower stood alone above the tree tops. You can see it here:

Jia knew that there had been protest against the proposed building of 6-story dorms directly behind the Wang AAC. They would come halfway up the pagoda tower's height, destroying the aesthetics of its slender solitary outline against the blue sky. They would destroy the beauty and the serenity of the classic Chinese garden. Students, faculty, staff and members of the community had contacted President Stanley to express their opposition and offer alternatives, but he had never responded to anyone.

Jia had signed the online petition when President Stanley had fired the long-time Director of Asian and Asian American Programming, and knew first hand the petitioner's had been ignored.

Jia wanted his photograph to express that. "My photograph is about showing the truth about what is happening at Stony Brook. It represents the authority figure who is not listening to the Asian community about what we want for the Wang Center."

To get the effect he wanted, Jia knew he would get in trouble if he took all of the chairs he needed outside, so he took just a few, photographed them, moved them, photographed them again, moved them again, until he had enough, and then he Photoshopped everything together.

He sat in the center, representing President Stanley. He had a blindfold over his eyes and headphones over his ears. 

On his Facebook page Jia described what went into his photo this way:
- The booklets on the chairs represent students.
- The laptops represent educators who had used the internet as a tool to express their feelings toward the President.
- The person in the center dominates the whole. He has earphones and a blindfold on because people in authority can do whatever they want and hear whatever they want.
- The red blindfold shows the desire of the authority figure to change the Wang Center in contradiction to the Asian community, represented by the culturally significant red color in the background.

"Overall the photo shows that even when students and educators come together, it is no match against authority. This makes us wonder if true democracy really exists on a student and educator level. The harsh sunlight used is to show this is NOT a pretty photo, rather a harsh situation."

Without knowing any of that, just by looking at the photograph, those running the contest saw in Jia's work what they saw happening to the Wang Center. One person alone, by being deaf and blind to the pleas of those around him, was negating their very existence. They chose to give a special prize to honor Jia's work.

Just as Ai WeiWei portrays the indifference of the Chinese government towards its citizens, Jia Yao portrays President Stanley's indifference to the Asian community and to all of the members of the Stony Brook community who appreciate and enjoy the unique beauty the Wang AAC has brought to the campus.

Port Jefferson Documentary Series

Ai Weiwei is China's most famous international artist, and its most outspoken domestic critic. Against a backdrop of strict censorship and an unresponsive legal system, Ai expresses himself and organizes people through art and social media. In response, Chinese authorities have shut down his blog, beat him up, bulldozed his newly built studio, and held him in secret detention.

But they haven't stopped him. They have simply made him more defiant.

Learn more about what is happening with the dorms and what began as President Stanley's indifference to the Asian community but which has progressed into presenting false documents and lying about them here:

Save Wang:

PH Tuan Annual Wang AAC Photo Contest

- Ja Young, Alumni Editor







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