oil painting on canvas stretched on wood, over 10 feet wide and over 7 feet high (89.25″ x 125.25″)
Completed between August and December of 2019
Full description (Google document link):
One of the strongest and most peaceful methods of protest which has been utilized by the pro-democracy protestors of Hong Kong is the practice of forming human chains. Human chains are a quiet yet powerful form of nonviolent protest, which people have been using to fight for their rights for centuries. It is a very powerful symbol of standing in union for human rights and democracy.
Human Chain portrays such a chain, consisting of fictional characters who represent a wide array of Hong Kong’s demographics and archetypical personalities. (The face of the central little boy is scrunched up because his character is based off of the image of a toddler who was subjected to tear gas by the Chinese police.) However, this is not a depiction of any human chain from real life: I have placed the chain in an underwater setting. This decision is symbolic of the protestors’ determination and relentlessness. There are specific thoughts which I imagine my characters proclaiming:
“May the seas rise over our heads –
May the ground grow up around us –
We will not separate.
We will not give up.
We cannot be removed.
We cannot be washed away.
Our fight will never be extinguished.”
The imagery of water is also a nod to the movement’s unifying adage of “Be Water.” This cry is a concept that if the protesters are struck, even with great force, they can and must absorb the strike’s force and yet move fluidly around it, without deterred or swayed in their beliefs – the behavior of water when struck.
In order to also convey a sense that my characters have been standing in their chain for a very long time, I am making them appear as though they are covered in growths of algae and corals, as well as being almost calcified and even nearly turned to stone.
However, I did not want to make my characters appear hyper-realistic, like some recreation of a photograph. Consequently, I mimicked the organic look of colorful algal growths and sea corals with patterns of imagined colors and textures. The patterns on the five adult characters are abstractions of the Chinese characters representing the five demands of the protest movement, which protestors (literally) stand for. The little boy’s patterns are inspired by the flag of Hong Kong. These patterns also drew inspiration from the style of Gustav Klimt’s luxuriantly patterned portraits.
I have also included a less obvious sign to show how long my characters have been standing. The little boy and maternal figure stooping over him in the center of the painting are echoed to the left, in the young adult male holding the hand of the older woman – another son-mother relationship. This repetition conveys many questions: Are the two individuals on the left the very same son-mother pair, still standing in their same place for the same reasons, even after so many years? Or are they two different pairs? For how many generations has this chain been standing? For how many more will they – must they – stand?
In addition to the references to the protest’s values and demands, I also render further imagery specific to Hong Kong, such as blossom-like seaweeds which reference the petals of the flower on the flag which is recognized by the people of Hong Kong. Most prominently, I include an outline of Lion Rock, the mountain where protestors formed a human chain of history-making length. I am also including the image of a vivid red Spanish Dancer fish on the lower edge of the painting, which symbolizes communism, as well as sharks lurking in the background, representing the ever-present danger looming and threatening protestors’ lives.
I represent the world outside of China and Hong Kong with the largest living thing of all: a blue whale. The most distant creature from the foreground, it positions itself in proximity to the sharks, much as many countries maintain long-established business relationships with mainland China. Despite its size and strength, it chooses to drift in a passive and docile state, far removed from the center of conflict, to which it seems blind. This behavior informed my choice to paint the whale with no eyes of its own.
I connect the two leftmost figures through the sharing of an umbrella, rather than directly holding hands. This is of course a nod to the Umbrella Movement, but it is also a salute to the involvement of the youth of Hong Kong in the protest. In Hong Kong, it is socially frowned upon for young people to touch members of the opposite sex, so students have come up with a means to form human chains by holding onto opposite end of various objects. I have hidden all of the leftmost figure except for the edges of a generic school uniform, in respect of all of the students who risk everything with a courage and maturity which is beyond their years.
Despite my use of these specific references, I have intentionally allowed the imagery of the painting to be general enough so that it can relatable for many others in other countries, who have also had to fight for their rights, who are currently fighting, or who will in the future have to fight the same fight.
This was a key factor in my decision to portray the universal image of a human chain, instead of any of the countless real images of violence and cruelty being suffered in Hong Kong. While bringing this injustice and suffering to light is, of course, vital, I believe that this is most effectively accomplished through photography. I want to use painting to convey the following:
- The protestor’s hope for a better future, and
- The reserved but commanding power that can be produced through peaceful, non-violent means of protest.
Please take your time to process and enjoy Human Chain. If you or any others have any questions or would like to speak to me for any reason, please call or text me at (732) 991-9799 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To view more of my work, please visit my website at michaelalozada.net.
I invite and encourage you to show my work to anyone whom you would like to share it with. All I ask is that you do not use any of my work to promote violence in any context, and that you credit the painter – Michaela Jane Lozada.