USA: Ai Weiwei exhibition features music by imprisoned musicians

30 September 2014


A new exhibition by the acclaimed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei opened on 27 September 2014 on Alcatraz near San Fransisco, USA. It features music by Tibetan singer Lolo and Pussy Riot, highlighting threads which connect artists around the planet who face harassment, pressure, persecution, prosecution and even death for expressing their opinion and their art.

Admission to the exhibition ‘@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz’ is free, but even so it has already been termed “the hottest ticket of the year”. It took three years to make, had a budget of $3.6 million, and music plays an important role in it. The reviewer from Mercury News wrote that “The most striking elements may be the 12 sound installations in A Block, a section titled ‘Stay Tuned’. Here, you’re invited to enter past the flat strap-iron bars and keyed doors, sit on a shiny new stainless steel stool next to a battered sink, and listen to spoken word, poetry, speeches or music by people who have been detained for creative expression. In one cell is music from the Tibetan singer Lolo, in another a speech from Martin Luther King Jr., and in another the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot.”


“Ai Weiwei has described the texture of the human voice as a potent vehicle for human connection and communication. Heard inside a cell, speech and singing create a powerful contrast to the isolation and enforced silence of imprisonment.”
Text from a sign in the exhibition


“The exhibition explores a number of issues, including those who are imprisoned because of their thoughts, beliefs or speech,” explained the dissident Chinese artist in an interview with KQED Arts: “They are put in prison not because of theft or harm to others, but simply because they have different ideas,” he told.

KQED Arts’ Adam Grossberg produced this excellent video report from the exhibition which have been posted for viewing on

Making of: ‘@Large, Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz’ | KQED Arts
Published on on 25 September 2014 by


The works in the exhibition explore themes of imprisonment and freedom and are intended to bring attention to prisoners of conscience around the world.

In Ai Weiwei’s exhibition on Alcatraz, a sign explains: “The sound installation ‘Stay Tuned’ invites the audience to sit and listen to music, poety, and spoken words by people who have been detained for the creative expression of their beliefs, as well as works created under conditions of incarceration. The diverse selection includes the Tibetan singer Lolo, who has called for his people’s independence from China, the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot, opponents of Vladimir Putin’s government, and the Robben Island Singers, activists imprisoned during South Africa’s apartheid era.”

“I hope these efforts can change society. I have to pay a price for that change but the price I pay is only a fraction of what those serving long sentences pay. I have an obligation to speak on their behalf. My art expresses only a portion of the values they’re fighting for,” Ai Weiwei said.

Ai Weiwei was imprisoned by Chinese authorities for 81 days in 2011, ostensibly on tax-related charges, and his travel is still restricted to his native China.

The installation of Ai Weiwei’s Alcatraz exhibition on Alcatraz was “a labyrinthian affair, coordinated across continents, complicated by multiple layers of jurisdiction and permission and requiring more than 100 volunteers and staffers,” wrote KQED. For more on Ai Weiwei and KQED’s report, visit

On Alcatraz, Ai Weiwei Celebrates the Silenced
Published on on 27 September 2014 by

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