@Large: Ai Weiwei Alcatraz Exhibit Pays Tribute to Political Prisoners

Ai Weiwei's exhibit on this former federal penitentiary raises questions about freedom of expression and human rights.

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AP
An exhibition by Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has transformed the former island prison of Alcatraz into a tribute to the world's political prisoners, some famous and some forgotten. Called @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz,'' the installation opened at the former maximum-security prison in the San Francisco Bay last month.
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Revealing unexpected perspectives on Alcatraz and its layered legacy, the exhibit by the Beijing-based artist prompts visitors to consider the implications of incarceration and the possibilities of art as an act of conscience. The position of the kites trapped inside the building unable to fly, suggests the contradiction of freedom and restriction. The exhibit opens Friday and runs through April.
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Stay Tuned invites visitors into 12 individual cells in A Block, where they can sit and listen to spoken words, poetry and music by people who have been imprisoned for the creative expression of their beliefs.
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Visitors can listen to spoken words, poetry and music by Tibetan singer Lolo, the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot and the Robben Island Singers among others.
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The profusion of flowers rendered in a cool material could be understood as a reference to China's famous Hundred Flowers Campaign of 1956, a brief period of free expression followed by a crackdown against dissent.
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Shown is a kite that is part of the installation With Wind during a preview of the art exhibit @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz Island Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014, in San Francisco. Revealing unexpected perspectives on Alcatraz and its layered legacy, the exhibit by the Beijing-based artist prompts visitors to consider the implications of incarceration and the possibilities of art as an act of conscience.
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Visitors arrive at Alcatraz via ferry to view @Large: Ai Weiwei.
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People look at some of the 175 portraits made from Lego pieces in the installation Trace during a preview of the art exhibit @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz Island Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014, in San Francisco. Revealing unexpected perspectives on Alcatraz and its layered legacy, the exhibit by the Beijing-based artist prompts visitors to consider the implications of incarceration and the possibilities of art as an act of conscience. The exhibit runs through April, features 175 portraits of prisoners of conscience and political exiles around the world, from Nelson Mandela and the Tibetan pop singer Lolo to the American whistle-blower Edward Snowden and composed of 1.2 million Lego pieces. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
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A dragon kite that is part of the installation "With Wind" of the art exhibit @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz Island.
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According to @Large organizers, Ai Weiwei's new works were created specifically for Alcatraz, 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.
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The Chinese dragon kite is part of the "With Wind" exhibit inside the New Industries Building. The traditional Chinese dragon kite embodies a mythical symbol of power. According to museum organizers, Ai says that for him, the dragon represents not imperial authority, but personal freedom: “everybody has this power.”
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Meredith Gregory
The pieces that make up the dragon's body have quotations from activists who have been imprisoned or exiled, including Nelson Mandela, Edward Snowden, and Ai himself.
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NBCChicago.com
The room also has other kites that mimic birds and flowers — many icons for nations that have records of restricting their citizens’ human rights and civil liberties.
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NBC Philadelphia
"By confining the kites inside a building once used for prison labor, the artist suggests powerful contradictions between freedom and restriction, creativity and repression, cultural pride and national shame." — @Large organizers
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Getty Images
Ai's studio worked with Chinese artists to produce the handmade kites.
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The Feast
Ai Weiwei's work pays tribute to people who have resisted cultural and political repression — whether Tibetan monks, Hopi prisoners or the Native Indian tribes who occupied Alcatraz from 1969 to 1971.
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Facebook/Finale
In "Blossom," Al Weiwei converts fixtures in several hospital ward cells into porcelain bouquets. The work symbolically offers comfort to the imprisoned -- "as one would send a bouquet to a hospitalized patient."
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Tyler Curtis/DarkroomDemons.com
Ceramic flowers fill the sinks, toilets and tubs that were once used by hospitalized prisoners.
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A part of the "Blossom" exhibit.
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Photo from http://emilyelbert.com
Delicate ceramic flowers fill a prison hospital sink as part of the "Blossom" exhibit.
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