• Press Release

Chinese Dissident Ai Weiwei Opens Exhibit Featuring Amnesty International Research at Alcatraz

September 26, 2014


Media Contact: 
Amanda Simon, 212.633.4162[email protected] 

(SAN FRANCISCO, CA) –The exhibit, @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz, features seven new sculpture, sound, and mixed-media works throughout the historic former prison that will highlight political prisoners and incarceration through a human rights lens. Both Amnesty International USA’s Board Chair, Ann Burroughs, and Executive Director, Steven W. Hawkins will be in attendance for the exhibition’s opening reception on Friday, September 26.

"Highlighting Amnesty International prisoners of conscience on the site of a notorious former federal prison underscores how powerful the combination of advocacy and art can be,” said Burroughs. “Having experienced firsthand what it is to be jailed for speaking out against injustice in South Africa, @Large is an incredibly affecting exhibit.” 

The work of the Beijing-based artist and activist often explores conditions in China, including limits placed on freedom of expression, as well as his personal experience of incarceration. Ai was detained by the Chinese government in 2011 for 81 days on disputed charges of tax evasion and is prohibited from leaving the country.

He developed the works in the Alcatraz exhibit in his Beijing studio with support from curators from the FOR-SITE Foundation, collaborating partners such as Human Rights Watch, Bay Area volunteers, and Amnesty International, which provided research material. Most of the cases highlighted are active Amnesty International cases.

“Ai’s determination and perseverance to use his art to educate the world on human rights abuses is awe-inspiring,” said Hawkins. “Freedom of expression, especially in light of government censorship and persecution, is a human right that we must protect. For the stories of Amnesty International’s prisoners of conscience to be included in such a compelling exhibit is profoundly moving.”

The @Large installations will be featured in the dining hall of the prison as well as several other areas that are usually off-limits to visitors. These include the two-story New Industries Building where “privileged” inmates were permitted to work; the hospital main ward and psychiatric observation cells; and A Block, the only cellblock not remodeled since the military prison was constructed in the early 20th century.

Among the pieces on exhibit are “Trace,” featuring 175 Lego portraits of people imprisoned because of their beliefs or affiliations; “Stay Tuned,” a sound installation featuring the music of Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot and others imprisoned for the creative expression of their beliefs; and “Illumination,” in which traditional chants from the Hopi tribe – whose members were among the first prisoners at Alcatraz — fill the psychiatric ward.

“The misconception of totalitarianism is that freedom can be imprisoned. This is not the case. When you constrain freedom, freedom will take flight and land on a windowsill,” said Ai.

Admission to @Large is included with general admission to Alcatraz. Visitors will have the opportunity to write postcards to some of the prisoners featured in the exhibit, and to learn more from a team of Art Guides posted throughout the installation.

As part of its mission to campaign for human rights worldwide, Amnesty International has advocated on behalf of Ai Weiwei during his detention and documented widespread human rights violations in China. An estimated 500,000 people are currently enduring punitive detention without charge or trial, and millions are unable to access the legal system to seek redress for their grievances.

Learn more about Amnesty International’s work on Prisoners of Conscience.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in over 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.