Thursday, January 8, 2015

@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz

"Non-violent people who have lost their freedom simply because they expressed their ideas. 

Every one of us is a potential convict." Ai Weiwei

Alcatraz Island -- historically a military fortress, federal penitentiary, Native American heritage site, national park, and now the site of seven installations about human rights and freedom of expression by Chinese architect, artist and activist, Ai Weiwei. Unable to leave China after imprisonment and passport confiscation by the Chinese government, he conceived and oversaw the creation of this exhibit in absentia.

In a cavernous empty building are 176 portraits of political prisoners from around the world. Their portraits are made of brightly colored LEGOs and stare up at you from the floor. Above are Reza Shahabi, serving six years in a Tehran prison and Shin Suk-ja, a South Korean woman indefinitely detained until her death from hepatitis.

In cell block A, visitors can listen to recordings of words and music by people imprisoned for their creative expression. My third image is a black hallway down a steep set of stairs in the center of cell block A, symbolizing for me the isolation and unknown future of the people immortalized by Weiwei.

In the final installation in the prison dining hall, we're invited to sit down and correspond directly to some of the prisoners on pre-addressed postcards . . . a very emotional experience.

The exhibit runs now through April 27, 2015.

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