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Skirball Cultural Center

This is a past exhibition

This exhibition was on view at the Skirball
May 15–August 1, 2021

About the Exhibition

A moving depiction of courage in the face of authoritarianism, Ai Weiwei: Trace illuminates the power of resistance.

Created in 2014, when the famed contemporary artist was under house arrest, the monumental display portrays activists, prisoners of conscience, and advocates of free speech from around the world. On view at the Skirball are eighty-three of the work’s original 176 portraits, each one hand-assembled from thousands of LEGO® bricks. To Ai, the portraits pay tribute to “heroes of our time,” many of them ordinary citizens who have stood up against injustice in their communities.

Complementing the portraits is a striking wallpaper designed by Ai Weiwei entitled The Animal That Looks Like a Llama but Is Really an Alpaca. At first glance, the pattern looks merely decorative, but upon further inspection, you’ll discover hidden iconography like handcuffs and surveillance cameras. Look closely to find the alpacas—a mascot for freedom of expression in Chinese internet culture.

Hirshhorn Smithsonian logo

Ai Weiwei: Trace is organized by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

Mobile Guide

Using our FREE mobile guide, hear insights from the artist and curator, as well as biographies of each of the prisoners portrayed in the exhibition. Content available in English and Spanish.

About the Artist

Ai Weiwei has spent nearly four decades exploring the relationships between art, society, and individual experience. His work, as prolific as it is eclectic, encompasses a wide range of media, including sculpture, installation, photography, film, painting, and architecture. He has extended his practice across multiple disciplines and through social media to communicate with a global public and to engage fellow artists with projects on a massive scale.

Ai attended the Beijing Film Academy and the Parsons School of Design in New York. He has received an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Politics and Social Science, University of Ghent, Belgium (2010), as well as many international awards.

More to Explore

Video Tour: “Ai Weiwei: Trace”

Go on a virtual walk-through of the exhibition

Ai Weiwei: Trace—Skirball Curator Talk

A Conversation with Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei on the role of artists in today's society- Hirshhorn Museum

Ai Weiwei discusses the role of artists in today's society in this video created by the exhibition organizer, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Making of: ‘@Large, Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz’ | KQED Arts

KQED takes us behind-the-scenes of the making of the exhibition @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz, which first featured the portraits included in Trace.

Donor Support

The exhibition and its related educational programs are made possible by support from the following Lead Donor:

Steve Tisch Family Foundation

Along with generous support from the following:

Billie B. and Steven G. Fischer Foundation
Chara Schreyer and Gordon Freund