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Ai Weiwei will oversee an exhibition of works created by prisoners and people across the UK’s criminal justice system.

It’ll open at the Southbank Centre in London this autumn (27 October – 18 December), known as the Freedom show.

The Freedom show will take place in the Royal Festival Hall. 

The Koestler Awards have uniquely motivated prisoners, patients from mental health facilities, and secure hospital patients since 1962.

Immigration detainees are also part of the Koestler Arts charity’s initiative.

Ai Weiwei will curate the exhibition and can draw from his personal experience, as the Chinese government detained him in 20111. Ai is one of China’s most prominent artists.

He criticized China’s authoritarian regime during an attack on human rights lawyers, writers, and bloggers. He was charged with tax fraud, which is obviously debatable given the autocratic Chinese government. 

He had spent 81 days in a secret prison on these possibly fake charges. 

Once he was out, at the 2013 Venice Biennale, he presented S.A.C.R.E.D., a series of dioramas that depict his prison cell, security guards, bars, and all.

He mentioned how he was subject to frequent interrogations and surveillance and mistreated by the brutal prison system of his country.

Living in China, an autocratic government makes freedom of expression and art manifestations difficult. Quoting Weiwei:

“When a society is dominated by one idea or one belief, then the restriction on freedom of expression is always there.”

The Freedom exhibition focuses on exploring the role played by creative thinking when under constraints.

Weiwei believes that notable works of art and literature in history were created by artists who were oppressed, challenged, and restricted, rather than being completely free.

Freedom reflects people’s experiences while incarcerated in a wide array of facilities.

Ai is spending the remainder of the summer reviewing thousands of entries in visual arts and wants the 2022 exhibition to be the most ambitious yet.

Koestler Art invited people within the criminal justice system to participate in the initiative.

They could submit works of art throughout 52 categories for the annual Koestler Awards, and they’d all receive feedback and certificates. Some of the available genres include art, writing, design, and music.

If the works are creative enough, they could even be selected for additional mentorship. 

Their work could even be sold and earn the artists a profit and further renown in their genre of art.

The results for the previous winners of the Koestler Awards are available on their website. You can learn more about Koestler Awards here.

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