Graduate/Undergraduate Seminar: Human Rights and the Arts in Modern China
This course is open to qualified undergraduates and to graduate students. The internationally renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s exhibition @large opened on Alcatraz in late September and runs through April 2015. Ai designed the show around the theme of freedom of speech and expression, which he famously lacks under his current state of house arrest in Beijing. The seminar will take advantage of this exhibition to look at the role of the visual arts in the modern and contemporary history of human rights in China, considering the questions of how and why thinking about them evolved. Ai Weiwei’s exhibition will be the touchstone for the seminar and we will visit Alcatraz together early in the semester to come to grips with this multipart work in its chosen setting—one of the US’s most notorious prisons (this will be a required weekend trip and will take much of a day). In class, we will turn back in time to consider the visual arts in the service of nationalist, reformist and minority rights movements from the early 20th century forward, ending with the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath. Finally, we will consider China’s ongoing effort to conserve ancient monuments, expanding the concept of human rights to include the collective right of material access to the past.