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China’s Ai Weiwei seeks LEGO bricks for exhibition after order declined

Chinese artist and free-speech advocate Ai Weiwei is surrounded by the media as he arrives to address a news conference in Berlin

Ai Weiwei will launch collection points in cities around the world for LEGO bricks after the Danish toy maker declined to fulfill a bulk order due to the Chinese artist and dissident’s political activism, his studio said.

LEGO confirmed on Monday that it had turned down the order from Ai’s studio, saying it had a long-standing policy of not fulfilling bulk orders or donating bricks if they know they would be used as part of a “political agenda”.

Known for his “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium, Ai, who has regularly criticised China’s record on human rights, had ordered the LEGO bricks for a new work that is due to be exhibited in Melbourne, Australia, later this year.

Since announcing on his Instagram account that LEGO would not supply the bricks, fans and supporters around the world have offered their sets to him, his studio said in a weekend statement.

“Numerous supporters offered to donate LEGO to Ai Weiwei. In response to LEGO’s refusal and the overwhelming public response, Ai Weiwei has now decided to make a new work to defend freedom of speech and ‘political art’. Ai Weiwei Studio will announce the project description and LEGO collection points in different cities,” the post said.

Ai has previously used LEGO bricks to build portraits of 175 well-known prisoners of conscience such as Nelson Mandela, shown on the US prison island of Alcatraz.

“As a company dedicated to delivering great creative play experiences to children, we refrain – on a global level – from actively engaging in or endorsing the use of LEGO bricks in projects or contexts of a political agenda. This principle is not new,” LEGO said in a statement.

“Any individual person can naturally purchase LEGO bricks through normal sales channels or get access to LEGO bricks in other ways to create their LEGO projects if they desire to do so, but as a company, we choose to refrain from actively engaging in these activities,” the company said.

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