Written by

Refraction - Ai WeiweiWhitman College will host a sculpture by contemporary Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei starting in September.

The piece, "Refraction," is a large, stainless steel sculpture created to simulate a bird's wing. It is 30 feet long by 12 feet wide and weighs six tons. It's made of Tibetan solar-reflective panels and is a commentary on freedom.

Ai Weiwei's works of art go beyond sculpture and include photography, film and even architectural works like the "Bird's Nest" stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Ai is also known for his political activism, including his criticism of the Chinese government's stance on democracy and human rights. He has investigated government corruption and cover-ups. As a result, Ai was famously held for 81 days without any official charges being filed, has been held under house arrest and until this week was unable to leave the country.

"Refraction" is coming to Whitman thanks to the work of several Whitman College alumni. The Anderson Foundation for the Arts is coordinating the installation with Ai Weiwei's studio.

The Foundation was formed by Whitman alumnus Mark Anderson, owner of the Walla Walla Foundry and Foundry Vineyards. Anderson met Ai thanks to 2012 alumna Siri Smith, a project coordinator for the artist.

"I reached out to the Foundry and Mark Anderson initially and personally introduced Ai to the Walla Walla art community," said Smith. "I have fond memories of working at Foundry Vineyards and sculpture garden during my senior year of college."

Smith worked with Ai to choose and curate works to be featured at both the Foundry and Whitman College. 

The exhibition at the Foundry will go up in August and run through the fall.

Ai wanted "Refraction" to be installed in a more public venue, which is how it found a home at Whitman College. The public will be able to view the sculpture on Whitman's campus from September 2015 to August 2016.

Prior to Whitman, the sculpture appeared as part of an exhibition on Alcatraz Island, for which Smith was also the project coordinator.

"I can't tell you how excited I am for Whitman to have this opportunity," said Daniel Forbes, director of the Sheehan Gallery, Whitman's campus art gallery. "Not only is this work by one of the most dynamic and provocative artists on the world stage today, but it is also a stellar example of what Whitman students have done with their studio art and art history and visual culture studies educations."

The Department of Art History and Visual Culture Studies is especially excited to have Whitman join the company of London's Tate Modern, the Louvre in Paris, the Venice and São Paulo Biennales and Mexico City's Museo Nacional de Antropología, as one of the places that host Ai's works.

"Our department plans to take advantage of this moment, especially since "Refraction" addresses numerous themes, theories and topics across our courses" said professors Krista Gulbransen and Lisa Uddin.

"We anticipate it will inspire other people to reflect on the meaning and forms of freedom today, in China and Tibet, but also in the United States. "

"Refractions'" temporary home will be the lawn behind the Fouts Center for Visual Arts through June 2016.