Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

    Ai Weiwei brightens up Alcatraz

    Chinese dissident shows art, brings life to former prison

    The diverse San Francisco Bay Area community became more familiar with the provocative, Beijing-born Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. A collection of his instantly recognizable work was displayed in seven exhibits at Alcatraz Island from September 27, 2014 to April 26, 2015. The prison-turned-national-park environment served as a platform to project the artist’s voice on activism, freedom of expression, social change and human rights issues. Through a generous grant sponsored by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, fifty-one participants from Asian/Asian American Studies at Laney College took BART and a ferry to attend the “@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz” exhibition on Friday, April 17th.
    Weiwei hanging dragonThe most remarkable exhibits were located in the New Industries Building. “With Wind” included an enormous traditional Chinese dragon kite, along with smaller paper kites of birds and plants. The colorful hanging icons represented nations with records of civil liberty violations. Further, a warm sense of closeness and approachability emanated from above as well as below. The very large exhibit placed on the floor, “Trace” featured Andy Warhol-esque faces of over one-hundred and seventy-five worldwide detainees made with small, multi-colored LEGO bricks. This provocative display included kiosks with details of each hero who was or continues to be imprisoned for his or her beliefs and affiliations. Another dinosaur-sized piece, “Refraction” looked like a giant bird’s wing made of steel. The imagery of movement juxtaposed flight with freedom and political confinement. Upon a closer examination of the structure, however, appeared repeated and numerous panels, common to Ai Weiwei’s mixed media projects. The tiny, repetitious patterns were surprisingly “feathers” as seen on solar cookers in occupied Tibet. 
    “@Large” was an international undertaking that took over five years to plan and implement by the FOR-SITE Foundation in partnership with the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. Unfortunately, the artist himself could not physically attend the event due to travel restrictions. However, Ai Weiwei’s quest and mission were well executed as art as an act of conscience. He has stated: “Art allows us to ask the right questions.” At the end of the exhibit, a postcard writing center allowed participants to send a postcard to current political prisoners. Laney students remarked about attending the @Large: Ai Weiwei Exhibit on Alcatraz:
    Weiwei uses sharp colorsNgon Tran: “My one word for the exhibit is INTERESTING. I enjoyed the art-work and lego pictures of many people around the world. Most of them are the human rights fighters. I liked best the pictures of all Vietnamese who struggled for the democracy in my country, Vietnam, such as the Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do. He is a nine-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee. I also liked the pictures of some free bloggers who still live in the prisons in Vietnam. I would like to thank artist Ai Weiwei who has raised the spirits of all human rights, democracy fighters in Vietnam.”
    Cody Keller: My experience at Alcatraz was a really good one. Living in the Bay Area for all my life and never really knowing the history of the island other than it used to be a prison, this field trip really changed that. Overall it was very informative and a cool experience. I think the best part of the exhibit was the complex angles the artist used. Most people don’t think an old prison is the best place for an art exhibit, especially one that is standing up and speaking out for political prisoners across the world. Well, the artist used a lot of bright colors such as with the giant dragon kite.”
    Marciano Garcia: “I wrote a postcard to a political prisoner in Myanmar to stay strong.” 
    Diep Tran: “This is amazing. What I found most provocative was “Blossom” — Flower in prison. Flowers that have been used in the exhibit were coming from prisoners’ home towns. Each represents their culture, their most original being- a son, a child, a human. The flowers represent the most pure color: white. It’s remarkable to see the flowers being putted in the sink, toilet bowl and tub. They are in striking contrast to the cold, haunting rooms, that boast so sad and sinister a history.”
    Titlis Wan: “I wrote a postcard to Chen Wei from China.”
    To view more photographs and students’ comments online, please visit: www.tinyurl.com/owamlt4

    About the Contributor
    In the fall of 2019, The Laney Tower rebranded as The Citizen and launched a new website. These stories were ported over from the old Laney Tower website, but byline metadata was lost in the port. However, many of these stories credit the authors in the text of the story. Some articles may also suffer from formatting issues. Future archival efforts may fix these issues.  
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