Along Qingdao East Road (青島東路), the sharp points of a long fence are covered with tennis balls and pieces of cardboard, leftovers from the Legislative Yuan storming on March 18. Across the street, the wall is plastered with bright pieces of color: twisted balloons, lines of poetry, comic strips, posters and placards — memes that are spreading through student networks on Facebook.
Art has been central to the occupation over the cross-strait service trade agreement, in a scope and scale not seen in the day-long street demonstrations that have preceded it. This time, as days stretch to weeks, protestors have taken to writing, painting and producing other visual art. Work has accumulated on the wall as a kind of art exhibition that’s recording their time at the Legislative Yuan.
In the first few days of the student movement, most pieces originated from university clubs and professionals like Hunter Comics (獵人政治漫畫).
They were inspired by the sunflower, a heliotropic plant that students adopted as a metaphor for transparency. Other early works were caricatures of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), drawn in emperor’s clothing or with deer antlers, a reference to a moment earlier this month when Ma mistook deer antler velvet (鹿茸) for deer fur.
Early tropes also included appropriations from past protests. The raised fist, a symbol of resistance borrowed from overseas, clutches Taiwan in a large poster draped on the main building. The black-and-white thumbs-down fist, created for the “Depose Bian” movement (百萬人民倒扁運動) in 2006, appears on the wall with “Ma” substituting the name of the former president. There is also the eye of Big Citizen, popularized during the Citizen 1985 demonstration for the late Corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘). This time, the eye is drawn on the face of the sunflower.
ART OF RECORD
On Friday, March 21, the movement entered its third full day and Legislative Speaker Wang Jyn-ping (王金平) didn’t attend a meeting with the president on coordinating a formal response. As the Associations of National Universities of Taiwan urged Ma to engage in talks with student leaders to defuse the situation, hand-drawn placards went up at the legislature, calling for the same. One depicts a horse (Ma’s surname can mean horse) with its head in the ground, captioned, “Ma: Don’t be shy.”
Most protesters were completing their masterpieces at a small space behind the party caucus offices at the Legislative Yuan.
Athice Kao (高詩涵), a professional designer, had pulled a plastic tarp over a granite platform. The drawing station, labeled Creative Connection Against the cross-strait service trade agreement (反服貿創作連線), offered paper, pastels, paints and other materials to passersby, mostly students.
These budding artists have a penchant for cartoons, like Batman (caption: “Taiwan does not have a Batman, but it does have you”), the yellow duck and the Formosan Brown Bear, used as a symbol of Taiwan.
“We ask them to avoid using inelegant language, but we don’t set other limits,” said Lin Yu-chih (林游智), 18, the volunteer in charge of the station.
As the protest drags on, the works have become darker. Near the art station, a drawing in marker shows a white road leading to a red perpendicular line, while a sign underneath reads Dead End. Another sketch shows anguished faces surrounding a mousetrap baited with money.