On Dec. 10, Human Rights Day, Jingmei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park opened to the public to memorialize human rights violations committed during the 38-year-long martial law era. As art met politics in the park, a dispute was triggered between an installation artist and a victim of human rights abuses. However, there has been no discussion about the park’s role in the altercation.
A few days before 228 Memorial Day, the artist and representatives of victims together demolished his installation, Beyond the Wall, in a symbolic action. Can such a ritual provide a chance for introspection over the dispute between art and politics?
Historically, art has often competed with politics. Conflict followed by introspection and reconciliation is precisely what the park needs. Society as a whole should learn from this shared “esthetic experience,” and use it to build core values of cultural identity. This is the aesthetic interpretation of a “cultural war,” where art attempts to transcend politics, and this is significant.
Let’s compare the involvement of art in political and social issues before and after the lifting of martial law. Thanks to public hopes for change, Taiwan’s art circles not only broke taboos, but also made great accomplishments as creative artists and became involved in political and economic affairs.
The 228 art exhibition has concerned itself with politics for many years, trying to connect art with historical interpretation. Interaction among artists, audience and the public led to diverse interpretations of art, and this has served as an opportunity for us to learn from one another in the new democratic society.
Hopefully, the trauma brought by the 228 Incident and the White Terror can transform and deepen our understanding of historical events, forming a culture that upholds human rights. Thus, history can serve as the soil for today’s cultural creativity.
When a museum offers an environment for the creation of art, however, it must take into consideration the conflicts that may be caused by the public’s diverse interpretations of an artwork. Such issues should be addressed when the museum invites bids. This will enable it to promote a public dialogue through the medium of art.
The Beyond the Wall case is more than a lesson in the use of art, which the park needs to face up to. As the authority in charge, the Cabinet’s Council for Cultural Affairs should invite audiences to consider what we can do for the park. As for the park itself, it should resume its original tasks and duties, while learning how to communicate with the outside world. As a memorial park for the victims of human rights abuses, the park should further study how to use art to change “the land of sorrow” into “the land of hope.”
Let’s move “beyond the wall” and overcome the barriers to historical understanding. It will be a blessing to Taiwan if the park can play a role in doing so.
Ronald Tsao is the planner of the Green Island Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park.
TRANSLATED BY EDDY CHANG