In recent decades, one can easily notice that artists are increasingly intervening in the public space. As they use art for various forms of protest, satire or criticism or to show their dissatisfaction with the nation, society, or community, their interest in the public space has also increased.

Works of art in public space can be forms of creative expression that use a common space. They can be temporary or permanent, made with or without permission. Artistic interventions are often anonymous and independent and highlight certain moments or situations, customizing places and spatial fragments.

In most cases, public space is considered as a meeting place between the population and the symbols of the community or nation. It is a space for socializing and relaxation, but also a medium of travelling from home to work and vice versa. Public space is often seen as managed by the local administration because, over time, there has been a tendency to seize it with political or national heroes’ monuments. Consequently, art and public space have become two merging social components.

One of the landmarks worth mentioning in any discussion about art and public space is the sculpture the Chinese students erected between 30 May and 4 June 1989, during the protests for democracy in Tiananmen Square, Beijing. Named the Goddess of Democracy, the 10-metre high statue was built through the common effort of the students of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. The sculpture, made of polystyrene, plaster and glue, became the emblem of the protests that had spread for several weeks in the capital of the socialist state. Initially, the work represented a man holding a fragment of a pillar, but later it was modified to suggest a female figure raising a torch to the sky with both hands, inspired, of course, by the Statue of Liberty in New York.

The large sculpture was made of smaller pieces, to be easily transported from the Academy to Tiananmen Square. It was carried on three metal carts. On the evening of 29 May, the sculpture arrived amid the protesters. That night, over 15 young artists worked on assembling, gluing and finishing the sculpture. In the morning of 30 May, the sculpture dominated the crowds of protesters, mostly students, who were shouting anti-communist slogans in one voice. They looked proudly at the sculpture – the new face of democracy they were all hoping for. It was placed opposite Mao Zedong’s painting at the entrance to the Forbidden City. The impressive scene attracted the attention of the international press. The timing could not have been better, as many foreign publications came to China to document the visit of the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

The statue symbolised the people’s contempt and hatred for communism and the leader of the nation, but soon their protests were condemned by the Chinese Communist Party. The demonstrations had a tragic end. On 4 June 1989, the army demolished the statue and any symbol of democracy. Once the Goddess had fallen, hundreds of young people lost their lives, demanding democracy and their right to freedom of thought and expression. The statue built by the 15 students became a symbol of communist repression. Replicas of it were erected in major cities around the world, to keep the memory of events alive. The statue is the most admirable example of the population taking over the public space and erecting a monument that truly represents the wishes and aspirations of the community. The students used art to give a recognisable face to their demonstration. When the statue was demolished, the whole world witnessed the severe oppression of the communist state.

Countless examples of this kind can be given, many of them related to the events of 1989, when many communist states made an apparent transition to democracy. Also worth mentioning are the recent protests in Belarus and Poland, where the population used art to intervene in public space and to express their discontent or hope for a different society. In the US and England, people have replaced a number of statues with symbols relevant to today’s community values. It is truly impressive that, in difficult times, art becomes an instrument to convey civic messages, protests and ideals of a different world. Many artists advocate for such interventions in public space.