Ai Weiwei curating exhibition of work made by UK’s criminal justice system

Ai Weiwei is overseeing a new exhibition made up entirely of works created by people across the UK’s criminal justice system.

Ai Weiwei February Arts Guide

Freedom will run from 27 October to 18 December, and will mark the 60th anniversary of the Koestler Awards, organised by the Koestler Arts charity, exhibiting and selling works by prisoners.

As well as featuring the work of prisoners, Freedom includes art created by individuals living in secure mental health facilities, immigration removal centres, young offender institutions and people on community sentences across the UK.

ai weiwei freedom exhibitionAn activist and outspoken dissident towards his native China, as well as being an artist and now curator, Ai Weiwei has personal experience being interned, after spending 81 days in 2011 in a secret prison on charges of tax fraud. He brought his prison cell to the 2013 Venice Biennale, recreating the space complete with model guards. 

In his role as curator of Freedom, Ai visited HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs among other UK prisons. 

In a statement ahead of exhibition, organisers said, “The vision for the exhibition is inspired by the artist’s [Ai Weiwei’s] visit to the Koestler Arts building [next to HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs in west London], which currently holds over 6,500 works entered into this year’s awards,” say the organisers in a statement.


Ai Weiwei said: “This exhibition focuses on the role that the act of thinking and creating plays in life under constraints. Notable works of art and literature in history were created when the artist was restricted, oppressed, and challenged, rather than being completely free.” 

Anthony Gormley and Sarah Lucas are among past curators of Koestler Arts’ Southbank exhibition, now in its 15th year. For the annual awards, Koestler invites people across the criminal justice system to submit works in 52 different categories.


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