Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly is a powerful documentary depicting the Alcatraz exhibit @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz, organized in 2014 by Cheryl Haines, the film’s director. Haines met Ai WeiWei in 2008, and their friendship developed over the following years. When Ai WeiWei was detained by Chinese authorities in 2011, Haines wanted to do something to help the artist bring attention to his plight and to the plight of other prisoners of conscience worldwide. Although he was incarcerated, Ai WeiWei was able to remotely transform Alcatraz into a remarkable expression of socially engaged art that was seen by over 900,000 visitors.
During the 8-month long exhibit, visitors witnessed an amazing transformation Alcatraz, the former island penitentiary (and current national park). An expansive display of larger -than -life Lego portraits of prisoners of conscience from around the world filled the space, bringing to mind the Aids Memorial Quilt and the personal stories depicted in that traveling project of the 1980s.
Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly illustrates how personal the issues of individual human rights are for the artist. In the late 1950s, his father, a nationally revered poet, was imprisoned in a remote work camp. Ai WeiWei, his mother and his brother endured years of privation on the edge of the Gobi Desert, and were profoundly moved when they received an unexpected postcard expressing support.
The final artwork at Alcatraz, Yours Truly, consisted of postcards beautifully illustrated with the national birds and flowers of the prisoners’ countries. Invited to write messages of hope to the activists featured in the Lego portraits, visitors sent more than 90,000 postcards to incarcerated prisoners around the globe. Then, something even more astonishing happened: prisoners and their families began writing back.
Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly follows these postcards around the globe—from Alcatraz Island to Beijing, Washington, D.C., and Cairo—as former prisoners of conscience and the families of those still detained describe their impossible choices and the comfort they found and still find in messages from people they will never meet. Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly is ultimately a call to action, extending the incredible reach of Ai Weiwei’s art by asking viewers to take the issue of global human rights to heart and make a simple gesture that can profoundly touch those unjustly imprisoned worlds away.
Director Cheryl Haines is the founding executive director of the FOR-SITE Foundation and principal of Haines Gallery in San Francisco, CA. As curator of @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz, she was the driving force in securing the location for that landmark exhibition. For over thirty years, Haines has developed exhibitions and site-specific public programs t0 expose new audiences to contemporary art and advance the discourse on art about place.
Co-Director and Editor Gina Leibrecht’s career began in 1998 in collaboration with the late documentary filmmaker and pioneer of the form, Les Blank, with whom she produced, directed and edited the feature documentary All In This Tea (world premiere, 2007 Berlin International Film Festival; Sundance Channel). Gina co-directed Blank’s final work, How to Smell a Rose: A Visit with Ricky Leacock in Normandy (North American premiere, 2014 Telluride Film Festival).
Ai WeiWei, Yours Truly will be shown at Matheson on Sunday, June 2, at 10:00 a.m. There will be a Q&A with filmmakers after the show. Purchase Tickets Here.
Listen to Joy LaClaire’s Interview with Gina Leibrect on Forthright Radio here.
Listen to Peggy Berryhill and Leigh Anne Lindsey Interview with Cheryl Haines on KGUA here.