|Photo of Ai Weiwei courtesy of Brooklyn Museum|
Now one of the US's most visited national parks, Alcatraz has a dark past as a military fortress, federal penitentiary for the nation's most notorious criminals and a site of Native American protests.
While tasked with creating works expressing the tension between freedom and imprisonment, Ai Weiwei has been confined to Beijing under house arrest, barred from leaving the country. As a result, Weiwei has been working with the curator, Cheryl Haines, and her organization, the FOR-SITE Foundation, to defy distance and restriction to commemorate the individuals who dared to express their ideas and beliefs.
Weiwei created seven unique installations throughout Alcatraz to give visitors a thoughtful experience regarding the spectrum between free expression and extreme oppression.
|"With Wind" by Ai Weiwei|
The installation colorfully represents the restriction of free expression with obvious comparisons to Chinese culture. Weiwei fearlessly interjected modern references such as this throughout the exhibition to remind visitors that although Alcatraz is now closed, government oppression is a still salient and present issue.
|"Trace" by Ai Weiwei|
|"Refraction" by Ai Weiwei|
"Refraction" is a two ton sculpture made with large solar panels and housed in the lower floor of the New Industries Building. Although bolted to the ground, the sculpture evokes the symbol of flight and gives the impression of a giant winged figure about to take flight. The enormity of the figure is viewed by visitors from the gun gallery above. The visitors stand where the armed guards would have been monitoring inmates. Viewing the sculpture through the dusty, broken glass of the building's windows evokes the disparity between the powerful and the powerless.
|"Blossom" by Ai Weiwei|
|"Illumination" by Ai Weiwei|
|"Stay Tuned" by Ai Weiwei|
|"Yours Truly" by Ai Weiwei|
This diverse and original exhibition's ability to communicate the importance of human rights as well as the persistence of governmental oppression reiterates the essential function artists and other creative thinkers pose to our societies. Weiwei uses art as a vehicle to communicate human suffering, empowerment and political issues affecting the whole world.
Details of each installment and high-resolution photographs and audio clips of the exhibition can be found on the FOR-SITE Foundation's website.
All photos are courtesy of the FOR-SITE Foundation. Sources include: San Francisco Weekly, Design Bloom, W Magazine, and Artsy.net.