This is Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei.
While his daring, unconventional work has made him a global celebrity, it's also made him unpopular with the Chinese government. But even after being harassed, maligned, and imprisoned, Ai continues to create and challenge the status quo.
Ai's latest work centers on free speech ... and mass quantities of Lego bricks.
The piece, set to debut in December at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, is a room-sized installation showcasing Australian activists and free speech advocates, composed almost entirely of Legos.
Ai's team contacted Lego, wishing to purchase bricks in bulk. Lego denied the request, telling Ai that "they cannot approve the use of Legos for political works."
When Lego denied his request, Ai took to Instagram to share his disappointment.
He called out the Denmark-based company, saying "Lego's refusal to sell its product to the artist is an act of censorship and discrimination."
And with just one post, Ai stirred fans young and old into action.
Ai supporters and Lego enthusiasts from around the world quickly stepped up to donate their bricks to his project.
Using the hashtag #LegosForWeiwei, fans are supporting Ai and taking Lego to task.
Roar Rude Trangbæk, a Lego spokesman with the best name ever, told The Guardian, “In cases where we receive requests for donations or support for projects — such as the possibility of purchasing Lego bricks in large quantities — where we are made aware that there is a political context, we therefore kindly decline support."
Have bricks around your house you'd like to contribute? Hold tight.
While Ai Weiwei vowed to accept every Lego offered to him, the logistics of that are still being worked out. But this incident and outpouring of support have inspired Ai to create "a new work to defend freedom of speech and 'political art.'"
And his team plans to set-up Lego collection points in different cities to support the effort.
In September 2015 Lego refused to sell Ai Weiwei Studio a bulk order of Lego bricks for Ai's artworks to be exhibited at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne on the basis of the works' "political" nature. Ai posted this notice on his Instagram on Friday, October 23rd. Lego's position triggered a torrent of outrage on social media against this assault on creativity and freedom of expression. Numerous supporters offered to donate Lego to Ai. 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. This is the first phase of the coming projects.
A photo posted by Ai Weiwei (@aiww) on
In many places around the globe, expressing oneself is a political act.
Lego bricks are the tools many kids (and adults alike) use to imagine and build a better future, create new narratives, and challenge themselves. It's not always perfect, and it's occasionally messy, but that's how the best stuff comes to life.
Take a cue from your fans, Lego, and support the people who are shaking things up and inspiring others to do the same.