On January 17th, proudly turned 41. The day was spent with fabulous Academy of Art University alumni. I was granted a limited amount of vouchers after applying for the Ai Wei Wei: @Large Alcatraz Community Discounted Tickets program through the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. $30 to pay for a ferry to view art can make access unobtainable. However, the reality is that everything has a cost similar to the exhibition’s theme.
According to the FOR-SITE website: “The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is internationally renowned for work that defies the distinction between art and activism. In this exhibition of new works created specifically for Alcatraz, Ai responds to the island’s layered legacy as a 19th-century military fortress, a notorious federal penitentiary, a site of Native American heritage and protest, and now one of America’s most visited national parks. Revealing new perspectives on Alcatraz, the exhibition raises questions about freedom of expression and human rights that resonate far beyond this particular place.”
Part of the application process included answering a series of questions such as: Why would you/your group like to visit Alcatraz and/or the @Large exhibit? How will you share your experience with your larger community (i.e. participants who weren’t able to attend the fieldtrip)?
The visit to Alcatraz to see the Ai Weiwei exhibit would be a special and unique experience. I wanted artists to be exposed to an accomplished individual who has dedicated his life to art. This might inspire one to not settle for less but to strive to be better individually and as a global citizen. As a Richmond Arts & Culture Commissioner, this exhibit could influence an arts community to work on strategies that broaden the dialogue and expand public projects. The unique opportunity delivered and more!
My husband and I rode a Golden Gate pedicab up the Embarcadero to meet former students at Pier 33. Then we huddled together in line and made our way across the Bay to Alcatraz. Once there, we met ranger Wendy who took us on a personal tour to highlight the island’s history from inhumane prisoner treatment to the Native American occupation.
After the tour, we entered the New Industries Building where Ai Weiwei’s With Wind dragon shaped installation of multicolored kites with quotes greets visitors. In the next room, 175 political prisoner Lego portraits adorn the floor. It’s shocking, disturbing, and effective in its message.
In the hospital’s Psychiatric Observation Cells, an artwork titled Illumination of recordings from Hopi prisoners and Buddhist chants reverberate. This was my favorite piece. I felt the pain and silence that stain the empty room. Exiting, Weiwei’s Blossom of tiny ceramic flowers burst out of every edifice that held water.
I was happy, sad, and angry after viewing the exhibit. Happy for the chance to visit with a great group. Sad to see the injustice in the world. Angry the lack of tolerance or freedom of expression that exists today. I left with questions and a heavy heart.
The view from Alcatraz is stunning despite its ugly history. Since the exhibit’s opening, 9 political prisoners have been freed. Awareness can provoke positive change. Ai Weiwei: “Freedom is a pretty strange thing. Once you’ve experienced it, it remains in your heart, and no one can take it away. Then, as an individual, you can be more powerful than a whole country.” Yes, indeed.
@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz on view from September 27, 2014 – April 26, 2015.