Alcatraz exhibit is tribute to political prisoners

ByElissa Harrington KGO logo
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Alcatraz exhibit is tribute to political prisoners
China's best-known dissident artist Ai Weiwei is exhibiting portraits in Lego bricks of 176 political prisoners.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Alcatraz is undergoing a big change. The former prison which was home to Machine Gun Kelly and Al Capone is now hosting what many say is the most anticipated contemporary art show of the year.

AI Weiwei is one of China's most well-known dissidents. He was arrested in 2011 for tax evasion and his passport was confiscated.

He can't leave the country, but is making his voice heard around the world through his activism and art.

PHOTOS: Alcatraz exhibit by artist Ai Weiwei is a tribute to political prisoners

Alcatraz, once known as one of the world's most notorious prisons, is now doubling as a gallery for seven of his pieces.

The exhibit is called "@large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz.

Curator Cheryl Haines traveled to China to help bring the pieces back.

"What an amazing place to activate. What an incredible history this island has. It's a place of detainment. It's a place of protest," Haines said.

She says Ai Weiwei's creations are meant to bring up questions about human rights.

For example, the display "With Wind" includes a giant rainbow paper dragon kite.

The dragon and kites symbolize power and freedom, but they're displayed in a building that was used for prison labor.

If one person who comes to this exhibition walks away with a better understanding of what freedom really means this project will have been a great success, Haines said.

Another work is made entirely of Legos, more than one million pieces forming the faces of prisoners, many detained for political reasons.

The artist also plays with sound. Visitors can listen to music or poetry by prisoners echoing from cell walls.

Only visitors who buy a ticket to Alcatraz can see the exhibit for no extra charge while on the island. It runs from this Saturday through April of next year.