The Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei created an exhibit that opens September 27th at Alcatraz Island. The show — a series of installations scattered around the former penitentiary — touches on global themes such as freedom and human rights, using materials that include teapots, bamboo and even Legos.
But because Chinese authorities won’t let Ai Weiwei leave China, he’s had to work on the show from afar. KQED's Mina Kim has reported on how the exhibit came together:
"Ai Weiwei was imprisoned for 81 days in 2011 on charges of tax evasion. But many of his supporters believe it was more because of his extensive investigation into the government's construction of schools that collapsed during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Ai Weiwei told KQED that this exhibition reflects thoughts he had while he was detained — about confinement, the struggle for freedom. He remains under a form of confinement. Chinese authorities have had his passport since 2011 and he's under constant surveillance."
Cheryl Haines, the exhibition's curator, on what made Alcatraz so compelling to Ai Weiwei:
"Because of its history, there are so many layers of info here — not just the time it was a federal penitentiary, but also the fact that it was a place of detainment. There were some prisoners of conscience here and it was a place of protest during a Native American occupation."
Mina Kim on what's in the exhibition:
"One of the seven new works in the exhibit is a series of 176 portraits of so-called 'prisoners of conscience,' and they're made from Legos. And they cover the floor of a building where Alcatraz inmates once did laundry. The building also has a dragon kite suspended overhead with segments that feature emblems from countries that have been implicated in human rights abuses. The National Parks Service also had to make sure they weren't creating any thorny issues for the U.S. by hosting one of the most vocal critics of China's government on federal land."
Kim on how the exhibition was designed without Ai Weiwei being present:
"Curator Cheryl Haines says she traveled to Beijing at least six times. She brought Ai Weiwei blueprints of the dimensions of the space [and] films. And she tried to describe what it was like to be in the spaces where his artworks would be — sort of help him feel the bleakness, the dampness, the peeling paint."