@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz

Born in Beijing in 1957, Ai Weiwei is a famous Chinese contemporary artist and activist known for his provocative work around the world. Among his most famous projects is the collaboration with architect Herzog & de Meuron on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics and the Sunflower Seeds porcelain exhibition at the Tate modern in London.


Ai's latest exhibition @Large on Alcatraz  takes place on the notorious prison turned National Park and is one-of-a-kind. The themes of liberty and justice, personal responsibility, freedom of expression, and human rights can be seen throughout the exhibition, which is divided into seven distinct installations: With Wind, Trace, Refraction, Stay Tuned, Illumination, Blossom, and Yours Truly. By turning the infamous prison into a space for dialogue, Ai intends to expand our understanding of "the purpose of art, which is the fight for freedom" and addresses the situation of persecuted people around the world who have spoken or acted out according to their beliefs.


Curated by public-art visionary and friend of Ai, Cheryl Haines, @Large features the following installations:

  • Symbolic mythical colored Chinese dragon kites in With Wind
  • 175 Lego portraits of people around the world who have been imprisoned or exiled in Trace
  • Metaphorical birds' wings made with solar cookers in Tibet that evoke the tension between freedom and confinement in Refraction
  • A sound installation featuring music and poetry from people detained for their creative expression in Stay Tuned
  • Fragile porcelain bouquets that fill areas of the Alcatraz Hospital as a symbolic offering of comfort to the imprisoned in Blossom
  • Chanting in two psychiatric observation cells as a symbol of spiritual strength in Illumination
  • The opportunity to communicate with prisoners of conscience around the world who face deep isolation through Yours Truly


As a critic of the Chinese government and a pro-democracy activist, Ai has been detained numerous times and as of August 2014 is still unable to travel outside of China. During the planning of the exhibition, Ai developed the artworks from his studio in Beijing with the help of the FOR-SITE Foundation. More than 90 volunteers helped with the installation of the pieces on-site.


The @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz exhibition has been presented by the FOR-SITE Foundation in partnership with the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. For more information visit the FOR-SITE Foundation.