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.