Shepard Fairey pays tribute to Ai Weiwei with new portrait

They are both outspoken artist-activists who have gotten into trouble with the law in their respective countries.

Shepard Fairey, the popular Los Angeles street artist, has created a tribute to Ai Weiwei in the form of a new portrait of the Chinese artist done in Fairey’s signature style. The poster depicts Ai in profile using deep red and other dark tones.

The portrait also depicts Ai with his head partially shaven and sporting a prominent gash on his scalp. The scar is a reference to the head injury that Ai said he sustained in a confrontation with Chinese police in Chengdu in 2010. The injury required the artist to undergo brain surgery.


Fairey created the portrait in collaboration with Friends of Ai Weiwei, a group of Ai supporters who are trying to promote awareness of the artist’s legal status in China where authorities have confiscated his passport.

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Organizers of the group said they are working toward the release of Ai’s passport in order to enable the artist to travel around the world. They said that revenue generated from sales of the print will go toward the organization’s goals, which also include promoting free speech and other artistic initiatives.

Ai was arrested by Chinese officials in 2011 and spent 81 days in prison. He was released on bail but his passport remains in the hands of government authorities.

The Chinese artist has been an outspoken proponent of free speech and social-media activism, which has often gotten him into trouble with officials.

In a statement released Wednesday, Fairey said that the poster is “a tribute to Ai Weiwei’s art, his courage to be outspoken, and in support of his ongoing political struggle with the Chinese government.”

The street artist said he hopes the portrait “will help raise awareness and advance dialogue that might lead to permission for Ai Weiwei to travel freely and continue to express himself.”

Fairey’s poster of Ai will be printed in a limited edition of 375. Fairey is donating 100 posters to the Brooklyn Museum, which will present the traveling exhibition “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” starting April 1.


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