• How can we help?

Public Art

Public Art Monday: @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz

On Mondays, we share our favorite public art works from Houston and around the globe with you. We believe passionately in the transformative power of public art for both the individual and in communities. Check out previous Public Art Monday posts here.

This week, we travel to the West Coast for @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz, which opened in the Fall, and will close on April 26th. @Large is comprised of a series of seven site-specific installations by artist Ai Weiwei in four locations on Alcatraz Island, offering a new cultural lens through which to experience the military and federal penitentiary turned national park.  The exhibition explores questions about human rights and freedom of expression and responds to the potent and layered history of Alcatraz as a place of detainment and protest. The large-scale sculpture, sound, and mixed-media works are installed in the two-story New Industries Building where “privileged” inmates were permitted to work; the main and psychiatric wards of the Hospital; the A Block cells, the only remaining section of the military prison that was constructed in the early 20th century; and the Dining Hall.

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.

The seven works that make up @Large include:

  • With Wind: a handmade Chinese dragon kite weaving its way through industrial columns, carrying quotes from imprisoned activists alongside renderings of birds and fauna
  • Trace: images of exiled or imprisoned individuals from around the world, created through lego brick construction
  • Refraction: a massive metal sculpture using Tibetan solar cooker panels to form a shape evocative of a bird’s wing
  • Stay Tuned: a sound installation occupying cells in A Block of spoken word, poetry and music by people who’ve been detained for the creative expression of their beliefs
  • Illumination: a sound installation of Tibetan and Native American chant, housed in chambers used to observe and treat mentally ill patients
  • Blossom: transformation of utilitarian fixtures throughout hospital wards and offices into porcelain bouquets
  • Yours Truly: visitors are invited to write postcards to detainees of conscience represented in Trace

For more information about @Large or artist Ai Weiwei, visit For-site.org.

Image credit: For-site.org