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
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
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
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:
PH Tuan Annual Wang AAC Photo Contest
- Ja Young, Alumni Editor