As founding Executive Director of the FOR-SITE Foundation in San Francisco—a non-profit organization dedicated to the creation, presentation, and understanding of art about place—I have had the privilege of working with dissident Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei for over a decade.
During this time, we have become friends. In 2011, the authorities detained Weiwei for his public outcries against the Chinese government’s disregard for human rights. I went to Beijing shortly after his release. Weiwei was weary, and described the immense sense of solitude he felt during his 81 days of confinement. It was an experience that would deeply inform his artistic practice. He asked me to find a platform through which to share his work with a much broader audience. In that instant, an idea took flight. I answered with a question: “What if I brought you a prison?”
And so we began working on @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz, a monumental exhibition of new artworks addressing the struggle for fundamental human rights. From the outset, Ai Weiwei hoped the exhibition could include a call to action. This desire took form in Yours Truly, a project that would invite visitors to reach out to prisoners of conscience from around the world by sending them postcards. It was an effort to abate the sense of isolation that the artist understood so profoundly. Unable to travel beyond China due to restrictions imposed by his government, Weiwei was still envisioning new ways to connect and mobilize others on a global scale.
In order to bring Ai Weiwei’s call to action to new audiences, I am now directing the feature documentary film Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly. While @Large reached nearly 900,000 visitors, a documentary film has the potential to reach millions of people worldwide in movie theaters, at film festivals, and on streaming networks via televisions, computers and mobile devices.
Ai Weiwei’s biography was the subject of Alison Klayman’s 2012 documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly broadens this conversation, telling the stories of a number of inspiring former prisoners of conscience featured in @Large who stood up for their beliefs and, by doing so, changed the world. The resilient and relatable individuals interviewed for the film include John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who was imprisoned for exposing the use of torture by U.S. intelligence officers; Ahmed Maher, an activist and co-founder of Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement, which ultimately overthrew the government; and the family of Ebrahim Sharif Al Sayed, the former Secretary General of the Bahraini democratic reformist party. Never before told stories from Ai Weiwei and his mother, Gao Yang, shed new light on the genesis of the Yours Truly postcards, while interviews with human rights leaders will help viewers locate their own potential within the ongoing struggle for human rights.
Making Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly continues to be a transformative experience that I look forward to sharing with audiences so that they, too, might be inspired to stand up to injustice in whatever form they choose to confront it.