Alcatraz. The mere mention of that name has sent shivers down my spine, while imagining what it’s like to live behind bars with dangerous men. Though the last inmates left the island on March 21, 1963, this symbol of America’s dark side lives on in infamy in many movies and books. Now Alcatraz Island is one of the Golden Gate National Parks, with hundreds of thousands of visitors a year.
All those years reading about and watching movies about Alcatraz, I never imagined that I would be going to the island to see an art installation.
Ai Weiwei, Chinese artist and activist born is 1957, is known for his provocative work that falls into both categories: art and activism. For a deeper dive into his background and work, see the documentary Ai Weiwei Never Sorry. I was excited to get to see some of his work in person.
As we disembark the boat to the island, I tried to imagine what the art may look like.
Our first stop was the new industries building, where inmates did laundry for military bases, made clothing, gloves, shoes, brushes and furniture for government use. Inside we found With Wind, Trace, and Refraction.
Photos of With Wind………
With Wind shows a dragon kite and other kites gliding through the building. Other kites included single headed and double headed owls and one Star of David kite.
Photos of Trace……….
Trace covers the floor in LEGO bricks put together to show the portraits of more than 175people around the world who have been detained because of their beliefs or affiliations.
Photo of Refraction…………
Refraction is a massive sculpture based on the observation of birds’ wings. The feathers are reflective panels used on solar cookers in Tibet. The imposing sculpture evokes the idea of flight, though in a tight confined room.
Walking away from the new industries building, I looked around trying to imagine what it was like to live and work there.
As we traversed the island on our way to the jail cells, we walked past a water tower, which had the words, “Peace and Freedom Welcome Home of the Free Indian Land”
In the late 1960s, a group of Native Americans took a stand on Alcatraz, to raise awareness. about the truth of American injustice.
How do we as a nation repair/ make peace with what has happened? The land was taken. The people were killed, hidden away on reservations, given the least respect imaginable.
We got to the jail cells. We decided to take the cell audio tour, which talked about some of the more famous inmates like Al Capone, as well as some of the prison breaks