27 Oct 2022 – 18 Dec 2022

Regular hours

10:00 – 17:30
10:00 – 17:30
10:00 – 20:00
10:00 – 20:00
10:00 – 20:00
10:00 – 20:00
10:00 – 20:00

Special hours


Free admission

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Southbank Centre

London, United Kingdom


Travel Information

  • Tube: Waterloo / Embankment
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Koestler Arts announces its annual UK Exhibition curated by Ai Weiwei


The volume of artworks on display in Freedom is an immense celebration of artwork coming 
out of criminal justice settings. Ai Weiwei’s design comprises of fifteen cell spaces that are
based on the size of a typical cell in a UK prison, which roughly measures 1.8m by 3m. Each 
cell contains a multitude of work, with the smallest containing 78 and the largest containing 
131. Alongside paintings and drawings, visitors will see artworks from a variety of artforms 
including calligraphy, graphic design, hairstyling and needlecraft. Visitors might also notice 
unusual materials in place of traditional ones; prison bedsheets used as canvases, Marmite 
used to create a portrait or sand used to create a landscape. Artwork will be purposefully 
left unframed to further respect the original environment within which it was made. There 
will be moments during the day when quotes from displayed artists will be played out loud 
in several cells. These quotes are read by individuals currently involved in Koestler Arts’ 
Mentorship Scheme where artists who are now in the community are paired with a mentor 
to help develop their practice. These intermittent recordings aim to reflect the sounds of 
unplanned comings and goings that enter prison cells unexpectedly – through the pipes of a 
shared plumbing system, through the bars on the window or through the slat in the door. 
Unplanned sounds that consequentially link the people inside the cell with life and activity 
outside it.

The design of the space also creates a natural flow of direction. Once through the corridor 
of cells, visitors will have a chance to listen to music and watch animation and films before 
entering the final section of the exhibition. This is a room filled with sculptures; from a 
child-sized Pinocchio made from matchsticks, to a delicate dragonfly made from bread. In
addition, the walls will be covered in poems and writing that continues to support the 
immersive environment Ai Weiwei’s design encourages. Poignant, humorous and escapist, 
the mixture of topics and styles further showcases in a different artistic form how humanity 
responds when put in extreme circumstances. 

A group of ex-prisoner exhibition Hosts, employed by Koestler Arts, have been specially 
recruited and trained to help visitors navigate the space. Additionally, the Hosts will lead 
free exhibition tours throughout the week to give further insight into the artwork through 
their own lived experience. Times and details about Host tours are available on the Koestler 
Arts website.

Over half the artworks on display are for sale and will be available to purchase through the 
website from 27th October. There will also be a Pop-Up Shop in the exhibition space where 
items such as postcards of artworks on display and three Koestler’s anthologies New Poetry 
from Prisons, will be available to buy. 

27 October – 18 December 2022
Southbank Centre
Exhibition Space, Level 1, Royal Festival Hall


Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei


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