Last week I went for the first time on a tour of Alcatraz Island. I thought I would share my experience with you. My main reason for going was not to see the prison itself; (although it was interesting); but to see the Ai Weiwei exhibit which is closing shortly. This is the first time that art was exhibited on Alcatraz.
As for myself, whenever I think of Alcatraz what has always come to my mind is the occupation by the IAT (the Indians of all Tribes) in the late 60’s when, after the prison was closed, the native peoples worked to get back their land. I wish it were successful, but it was not. It is now a public park. There is only a slight mention of that part of the island’s history; the tourism trade seeming instead to focus on its “famous” prisoners like Al Capone and the Birdman of Alcatraz…
Ai Weiwei is a contemporary artist and political activist with a focus on human rights. In fact he was not even allowed to set up his own exhibit because he was unable to leave his mother country China. You can learn more about him by clicking his photo.
I think if art is to be shown on Alcatraz that political, socially responsible art is appropriate.
City parking being what it is I came up with the bright idea to try California’s BART system which for me is another first (Bay Area Rapid Transit). Now, I am a native New Yorker and I love most things New York…… I wasn’t expecting much by way of trains…. therefore I was pleasantly surprised to find the BART system and stations to be clean and organized.
We even had some young dancers coming through cars doing a performance. Kind of brings back warm and fuzzy memories… (sniff lol)
AT PIER 33
Outside the entrance to the ferry is a small installation about the original landowners of Alcatraz.
On the ferry to Alcatraz. BTW the Alcatraz ferry is green, priding itself on being partially electric with very low fuel consumption.
View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the ferry.
As we dock.
The first thing I noticed upon arriving was the water tower with the Indian graffiti (yaay)
And how the island is trying to return
to its natural state.
View of San Francisco from Alcatraz. (that’s the Oakland Bay Bridge on the left)
The Weiwei kites were a stark contrast to the peeling oppressive nature of the prison.
There were quotes on the kites.
This one says:
“Our march to freedom is irreversible” Nelson Mandela
Ai Weiwei created posters of many political prisoners around the world done with LEGO building blocks. There’s a book in the center showing who each face is and their “crime”. These are people around the world who have risked their lives to help their fellow man and been locked away instead. The white stuff in the sink and tub are tiny porcelain flowers. I think its up to each person to interpret what this represents…
Panes still in some windows…
So close to beauty…. but so far from freedom.
Hmmm…… PRISON ! (whew)
Typical prison cell. Years in so tiny a space……
Tiers of prison cells and “the yard” where you only earned the opportunity to go outside.
For a few years the prison enforced a “no talking rule”…. but too many prisoners became unhinged and it was stopped. This was super max.. the worst of the worst back in the day.
TO SUM UP
I believe using Alcatraz as a location for “awareness art” and gatherings, is a good use of this beautiful space in the middle of San Francisco Bay. If used this way; and aside from the tours, it could become a place known to provide information and stimulate awareness of social issues around the globe.
I recently learned that on Thanksgiving Day there is an Indigenous People’s Sunrise Gathering. What a great way to begin Thanksgiving. I am hoping to attend.
Some of the more relevant songs I have written in keeping with the theme of this post…
A song called “Eyes”. The lyrics tell the story.
This second is a song called “For Come Ya” and It reminds me somewhat of our native peoples plight. You can read the lyrics of both songs by clicking the little grey “bc” on the right.
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My quote for this post is by John F. Kennedy
Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.
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As always I am musically yours,