The world famous Chinese artist-activist never set foot on the island, but his work now fills its storied halls.
Conceptual artist Ai Weiwei knows a little something about incarceration. In 2011, he was secretly detained “like a kidnapping” he said, when government agents intercepted him at the airport on his way to Hong Kong from Beijing. He recalls their pulling a black sheath over his head and shoving him into a car. He was ultimately released a few months later, but minus his passport.
Well, geography has not silenced Ai’s voice from being heard 6000 miles away. In fact, it could be argued that his message (exploring freedom of expression, confinement, and what it means to be a modern day political prisoner who fears his cause may have been forgotten) appears to be reaching record numbers of people. The exhibit, “@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz” has seen more than half a million visitors to date. Fans and tourists alike are making the trek hourly to “The Rock” on SRO shuttle boats.
Ai Weiwei has covered an entire work room floor with portraits of famous and not-so-famous dissidents from dozens of countries. (Pics #8 , #9, #10, #11). All made from Lego blocks, assembled by hundreds of volunteers.
You’ll need a full day to cover the entire show – allowing time to sit in a jail cell where chilling classical music is piped in, courtesy the artist. (Pic #14). One such composition was written by Czech composer Pavel Haas, who was sent to a concentration camp in 1941; in 1944 he was transported to Auschwitz and killed. While he was imprisoned he wrote at least eight compositions, including the piece for string orchestra (now playing in Cell Block B.) First performed by prisoners in Terezín, it is probably Haas’s best-known work today. Link to Audio here.