Just beyond the Whittier College Campus Courtyard, 10 7-foot-tall steel sculptures scale the grassy hills, traveling in an unknown direction. After years of inspiration and months of planning by Poet faculty, students, and alumni, the Whittier College campus is the permanent home of The Walkers: a set of original sculptures by renowned contemporary Chinese artist Wang Luyan.
Wang’s sculptures explore themes that will surely resonate with college students. According to the artist, “The Walkers appear to be advancing and retreating simultaneously – the uncertainty of the direction that The Walkers are headed towards represents the ambiguity of mankind’s dreams and goals. One may have already deviated from their goal even though they think they are moving in its direction. While moving towards the future, they are also moving backwards towards the unforgettable past.”
“The sculptures themselves are an amazing addition to the campus, but I think what makes this project really special is the story behind it,” said Amy Trinh ’20, one of the many students who helped implement the installation of The Walkers.
Wang has had a decades-long relationship with the College. His brother, Xinsheng, studied abroad at Whittier College more than 30 years ago, and during his time here, he worked with Professor of History Robert Marks to arrange an exhibition of Wang’s work in the Greenleaf Gallery. Coincidentally, at the very same time, a homegrown Poet, Randall Davidson ’88, was studying abroad in China, where he formed an unlikely friendship with Luyan. Thanks to these serendipitous connections, Wang’s first-ever international exhibition was at Whittier in 1986, and Wang has had an important link with the College ever since.
After studying at Whittier College, Xinsheng stayed in the United States to further his education until he passed away unexpectedly in 2004. The last time Wang had seen his brother before he passed was at his Whittier art exhibition years ago.
In 2017, Davidson, Marks, and Wang reconvened during a visit to China, and Wang told them that he wanted to donate a sculpture to Whittier to honor his brother and to celebrate the special place that the College held in both of their hearts.
Marks, who is retiring from Whittier College after 41 years, was committed to complete the installation of the statues in his final year on campus.
“It’s bigger than me; it’s bigger than [Wang]; it’s bigger than all of us,” Marks said of the project. “It speaks to friendship, to family, to global connections, and to universal values that we all share.”
But Marks couldn’t do it alone: he enlisted a crew of hard-working Poets to execute the plan.
Under the mentorship and guidance of Marks, Davidson, Professor of Business Administration Daniel Duran, and administrative coordinator of the LIASE Project Denise Wong Velasco, 11 dedicated students worked together in the laborious process of transporting the sculptures from Beijing to Whittier to enrich the Whitter College community with Wang’s heartfelt donation.
For nearly eight months, a multi-skilled student group collaborated with faculty, administration, and alumni to coordinate the successful installation of the statues. Using each of their unique backgrounds and expertise, the group of students conducted research, budgeted the project, mapped out the logistics of transporting the sculptures from Dadong, China, to Whittier, planned a site for the sculptures, translated Mandarin, and promoted the exhibition.
For these students, the process of coordinating the installation was a hands-on interdisciplinary opportunity. For example, Trinh, who is studying Digital Art and Design, Consumer Behavior Marketing, and Chinese through the Whittier Scholars Program, had the opportunity to combine her interests in art and Chinese with her talent as an aspiring graphic designer to lead the group’s marketing efforts and contribute her translating skills to the project.
Maya Choy ’21, a business administration major, computer science minor, and one of the founding members of the student team, did everything from painting wooden figures of The Walkers, to organizing community outreach, planning the reception for the unveiling of the sculptures, writing the background story of the donation, presenting to Senate to ask for
funding, and more.
According to Choy, “The Walkers are not only a permanent installation on campus but a physical manifestation of student involvement here at Whittier College. They are a symbol of many different disciplines coming together: art, graphic design, business, history, language, and more. I hope future students will see it as a representation of what students at Whittier
The culmination of all this hard work took place at a reception and artist talk in May, where the sculptures were officially unveiled. The artist, Wang, was on hand to talk about his work. The Walkers now stand at the center of the College as a symbol of interdisciplinarity, the College’s global impact, diversity on campus, and friendship across cultures.
About the Artist
Wang Luyan is a successful contemporary avant-garde Chinese artist. Along with famed artist Ai Weiwei and others, Wang is a founding member of the 1979 artists’ collective called the “Stars,” a self-described group of “unofficial” artists who made a bold call for artistic freedom in China. Since the 1990s, he has had numerous solo and group exhibitions in China, as well as international exhibitions at the Galleria Alessandro Bagnai (Florence, Italy, 2015), Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporarian (Saint-Étiebbe Métropole, France, 2014), Parkview Green Exhibition Hall (Beijing, 2013), Galerie RX (Paris, France, 2012), the Total Museum (Seoul, South Korea, 2010), and the Australian National Maritime Museum (Syndney, 2018), among six others. He is a globally recognized name in the world of the visual arts.