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Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly (2019), a VIP Film Screening
with Producer Christy McGill
Early on in Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly, renowned Chinese artist, and political dissident Ai Weiwei makes the following statement: “It is your duty as an artist to fight for freedom of speech. That is the soul of creativity.” Watching this documentary, which centers around the creation and installation of @Large, Ai Weiwei’s massive exhibition on California’s Alcatraz Island, we see these words come to life. We watch as Ai Weiwei, under house arrest in Beijing, works with assistants to create enormous Lego brick portraits of political prisoners who are jailed across the globe. Later, we see these same portraits installed at Alcatraz along with other large-scale sculptures. We watch Ai Weiwei overseeing the installation remotely from China, while his collaborator, San Francisco gallerist Cheryl Haines, the film’s director, attends to matters on the ground in the former federal penitentiary. We see the exhibition open and visitors flock to the site, many of them choosing to write postcards to prisoners depicted in the portraits (in all, 92,000 postcards were mailed). The postcard-writing campaign, we learn, was inspired by one of Ai Weiwei’s childhood memories: While in exile in the Gobi Desert in the 1950s, his father, dissident poet Ai Qj.ng, received an anonymous postcard, praising one of his poems. Ai Weiwei never forgot the happiness the unexpected message brought his father.
Though only a little over an hour in duration, Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly is a far-reaching film, touching on notions of creativity, freedom, justice, the importance of human connection, and much more. It invites contemplation and conversation, and we are thrilled to be joined for the screening and follow-up discussion by Christy McGill, one of the documentary’s producers and an East Haddam resident.