by Carlos E. Castañeda

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — An exhibition by a Chinese artist which spotlights government stifling of free speech – and featuring the use of more than one million Lego pieces – was unveiled on Alcatraz Island Wednesday.

Ai Weiwei’s ‘@Large …’ exhibit features 176 portraits of political prisoners and exiles, such as Nelson Mandela, U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden, and other Middle Eastern and Chinese dissidents – all made from the Lego pieces.

The installation also features other large-scale sculptures such as old sinks and tubs filled with porcelain flowers, a collection of intricate paper kites, and audio recordings inside prison cells of Native American chants and writings of prominent dissidents.

Native Americans occupied the former federal prison between 1969 and 1971 to protest U.S. policies related to Native Americans and to claim rights to the island from a 19th century treaty.

Ai is a Beijing-based artist and activist who was jailed by the Chinese government for alleged tax evasion, one of a number of activists detained in 2011 amid online calls for Arab Spring-style protests in Chinese cities.

He was released eight months later but is prevented from traveling outside of China. Ai’s Alcatraz exhibit was designed in his Beijing studio and developed with the help of advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

According to a press release, the exhibit is designed to “provoke visitors to consider the broader social implications of incarceration and the possibilities of art as an act of conscience.”

The exhibit opens to the public on Saturday and runs through April 26, 2015.


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