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Ai Weiwei’s Hirshhorn exhibition puts a face to those who have been detained, exiled

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Over one million LEGOs and 170 portraits

Ai Wei Wei’s “Trace” exhibition.
Photo courtesy of the Hirshhorn Museum

At one point, renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was detained in Beijing for 81 days and prohibited from traveling abroad due to his overt criticisms of the Chinese government’s stance on human rights and freedom of speech. Now, at a brand new exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum, Ai Weiwei is putting a face to the many individuals who have suffered similar fates as him.

In the “Trace” exhibition, Ai Weiwei has created portraits of 176 individuals from over 30 countries who have been detained, exiled, or have sought political asylum as a result of their actions, beliefs, or affiliations hand-assembled. To create these portraits, the artist used over 1.2 million LEGO blocks, inspired by his five-year-old son’s playful and ubiquitous medium.

According to a press release, each pixelated image is meant to resemble surveillance or photos found on the internet. The colors used for each portrait are also meant to represent the colors of that individual’s national flag.

Ai Weiwei.
Photo courtesy of the Hirshhorn Museum

The portraits are arranged in six zones with approximately 30 portraits per zone. The installation will span 700 feet and will be located around the entirety of the second-level “outer ring” of the donut-shaped museum.

Along with the LEGO block portraits, there will also be two graphic wallpapers, one of which has never been seen publicly before. The entire wallpaper installation is titled, “The Plain Version of the Animal that Looks Like a Llama but is Really an Alpaca.”

This is the East Coast debut of “Trace,” and is one of the artist’s most significant U.S. installations in recent years. The subjects who were selected for portraits were based on information provided by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations.

“Trace” is a free public exhibition that will be on view from June 28 through January 1, 2018. On June 27, Ai Weiwei will make a first public appearance in Washington, D.C., for the museum’s annual James T. Demetrion Lecture.

The last time the Hirshhorn Museum hosted Ai Weiwei’s works was in 2012 at the artist’s first major American retrospective. A press release reports that nearly 300,000 people visited this exhibition.

Trace [Hirshhorn Museum]

Hirshhorn Museum

7th Street Southwest, , DC 20560 (202) 633-1000 Visit Website