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Art Behind Bars: On Alcatraz, Ai Weiwei Celebrates the Silenced

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Artist and activist Ai Weiwei’s exhibition on Alcatraz Island opens to the public Saturday. The Chinese dissident has been a relentless critic of his own government, especially after shoddy construction of schools killed thousands of children in the Sichuan earthquake of 2008. Because Chinese authorities confiscated his passport after imprisoning him in 2011, Ai himself has never been to Alcatraz. He designed and directed the installation – which features the voices and visages of prisoners of conscience around the world — from his compound in Beijing.

Some in the art world are calling this latest show unprecedented, the hottest ticket of the year. KQED’s Mina Kim tours the exhibit and examines the issues raised by this unusual combination of artist and setting.

Correction: Howard Levitt is director of communications and partnerships for the National Park Service. In the video he was incorrectly identified as vice president of special projects.


Funding for coverage of arts that explore social issues is provided by the California Arts Council.


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