Currently, Alcatraz Island tickets will get you free entrance to its Large: Ai Wei Wei art exhibit. I had never been to Alcatraz Island, also known as The Rock (not the actor), which made this even more of an interesting day excursion for us. Prior to this day, I had read literature my friend left on my desk about the island and its history of escapes to get myself psyched up.
We woke up Sunday morning with a heavy fog that loomed over the city. San Francisco is usually known for being foggy, but not all areas, so the ferry over to the island was even more beautifully eerie. As the boat approached the island, all I could think about was the movie, Shutter Island.
Funny story: the last time my husband was at Alcatraz was for a birthday party. Yes, I said birthday party. A friend had rented out the dining hall of the prison to throw himself an entertaining and haunting birthday party. Talk about unique events.
Even more exciting than seeing the prison for my first time was the opportunity to check out this exhibit. The Chinese artist I had heard was not allowed to leave China and had been imprisoned in the past for his work that crossed political lines. After I uploaded a couple of photos on my Instagram, I learned there is hashtag to bring awareness to the artist and his movement: #AiCantBeHere.
Spoiler alert, I’m going to share the exhibit, but trust me, you’ll still want to go if you have the chance. There are only 3 parts to the exhibit. Each one worth every moment to see with your own eyes.
Tip: Ticket’s should be purchased at least 10 days in advanced (unless you’re going on a weekday).
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.
Ai’s sculpture, sound, and mixed-media installations occupy four locations in the former prison: the New Industries Building; a group of cells in A Block; the Hospital; and the Dining Hall. With the exception of the Dining Hall, these areas are usually restricted to the public, but all are open throughout the run of the exhibition. @Large turns Alcatraz into a space for dialogue about how we define liberty and justice, individual rights and personal responsibility. The artworks directly and imaginatively address the situation of people around the world who have been deprived of their freedom for speaking out about their beliefs — people like Ai himself.
A vocal critic of his nation’s government, Ai was secretly detained by Chinese authorities for 81 days in 2011, and is still not permitted to travel outside China. As a result, the artist was unable to visit Alcatraz during the planning of this exhibition; he developed the artwork at his studio in Beijing, with the help of the FOR-SITE Foundation. But constraints have only galvanized the artist’s commitment to art as an act of conscience. With this project, he aims to expand our understanding of “the purpose of art, which is the fight for freedom.”
@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz is presented by the FOR-SITE Foundation in partnership with the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. Lead support for the exhibition is provided by Roger Evans and Aey Phanachet and by the Fisher family.
@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz will be on view on Alcatraz Island from September 27, 2014 through April 26, 2015.
More photos from Alcatraz Island:
And just when the sun came out, we said ‘Good Bye’ to Alcatraz Island.
Photos taken with Nikon D40