On a gorgeous Fall day my parents, Bev and Tom, and I paid a visit to Alcatraz island. Alcatraz is one of the premier tourist destinations in the city. If you have not been (this means you, SF denizen!), it is well worth the visit – especially right now. Ai Weiwei’s show @Large is currently on display through April 26, 2015. The installations by this internationally renown, Chinese dissident artist are not to be missed.
Ai Weiwei is a critic of the Chinese government and in 2011 was incarcerated for 81 days on charges of tax evasion that were never officially filed. It is believed that these charges and his subsequent imprisonment were enacted as retaliation against Ai Weiwei’s very public, oppositional stance towards the Chinese government. Presently, he is not allowed to travel outside of China and the Alcatraz show was developed at his studio in Beijing. Somehow, a show about freedom and speaking truth to power in one of the world’s most infamous prisons by a radical, truth-speaking artist seems fitting.
It is important to note that before the Europeans and American military came, the first (and original) inhabitants were Native Californians. There are over 100 federally recognized tribes in California, more than any other state. I could not find any information on whether indigenous people lived on or utilized Alcatraz as a fishing spot prior to its “discovery” by the Spanish.
The Rock’s most well-known Native American history is recent. From 1969 to 1971, American Indian activist, Richard Oakes, and a group of Bay Area native peoples occupied Alcatraz with the intention of obtaining a deed to the island and establishing a university, cultural center, and museum there. Their efforts became unglued when Oakes’ 13-year old daughter was killed during a fall on the island. Oakes left Alcatraz and soon thereafter did the rest of the movement’s members. Largely as a result of the group’s efforts, in 1975 the U.S. government passed the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act.
Don’t miss @Large! It’s moving, evocative, and a relevant reflection of our times.