Thanksgiving weekend. Five houseguests. Each with a different idea about football, stuffing and pumpkin pie. Our tradition is an excursion the day following the feast. One year, the Mission murals – fantastic. Another year, Chinatown – meh for the tour guide. Exploratorium – too crowded. This time, we all agreed – take the ferry to Alcatraz and see the Ai Weiwei exhibit. Art and activism in the decaying penitentiary.

Walk into the exhibition, and you are greeted by an enormous Chinese dragon. It hangs in the large open space that once housed the workrooms at Alcatraz. The doors are open and windows are broken. You can easily imagine a strong wind carrying the dragon out over the bay.

Ai Weiwei uses images of flight and birds and wings to express freedom. Ariela painted birds, birds in their nests, birds in bushes, birds soaring above the earth. No constraints. No political constructs. No boundaries.

Not long ago, someone said Ariela was “wheelchair bound.” I thought that expression went out with “retarded” and “deaf and dumb.” I hope we’ve dropped these terms. I’m sure you can think of others.

Ariela’s wheelchair gave her freedom to roll out of our house everyday – to go to school, and movies, and concerts, and parks. Her only boundaries were stairs. She may have been trapped in a body that didn’t work, but that didn’t stop her from visiting Alcatraz at least four times, including an overnight in Cell Block D.

The Ai Weiwei exhibit runs through April 26, 2015. It’s worth a trip to San Francisco. Get your tickets in advance, and go early in the day. You won’t want to miss this.

  • Sue says:

    Harriet: The bird/flight and freedom imagery really struck me. Too often the tools, devices and technology that I see giving freedom and possibilities to my daughter are seen by others as constraints. What about a blog post with all those phrases we think should be retired, like “confined to a wheelchair”? I’m also on a one woman crusade against overuse of the word “special.” “She’s so special” with “special” emphasized and meaning that she’s special because of a disability, not because of who she is and her unique personality. People say she has a “special” chair, pen, computer, swing, scissors, etc. and it feels like a put down.

  • Right. Too often we see the equipment before we see the person.
    Let me know when you come to the Bay Area.

  • I appreciate this post. Just sent it to Chris and Katie in Brooklyn…as they are also big fans of Ai Weiwei, having seen his exhibits in various parts of the world. I hope to see it, too…and make a “big trip” to the Bay Area. I am in agreement with those so terms that need to be dropped…it goes along with “Person First.”

  • susigay says:

    Harriet, I missed sharing your days with you, thanks for inviting us and making us think…

  • Thanks. You’re on. It’s a huge exhibit and worth seeing more than once.

  • Barbara Grosberg says:

    Really well expressed, Harriet. I enjoyed reading this story so much and can’t wait to see this exhibit. You captured my imagination.

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