At the Lego company, everything is awesome, unless you happen to be using the bricks to make a political statement—but is that censorship?
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei accused the toymaker of “censorship and discrimination” for refusing to fulfill a factory order for him to create Lego portraits of political dissidents as part of a Melbourne, Australia museum exhibit.
Lego will tell us what to do,or not to do.that is awesome! https://t.co/7VKGWBcKMg
— 艾未未 Ai Weiwei (@aiww) October 25, 2015
Maybe it’s that Weiwei might not understand what “capitalism” means. As a private company, Denmark-based Lego Group can sell (or not) to whomever they please.
The company cites a longstanding policy of not selling its product directly to individuals if it’s known that the bricks would be used to make a political statement, according to a BBC report Sunday.
After learning that Weiwei used Lego bricks to create a similar exhibit honoring dissidents such as Nelson Mandela and Edward Snowden on Alcatraz Island last year, Lego rejected the museum’s order. But that didn’t stop Weiwei from going to a local toy store and buying the bricks himself. In fact, the artist has been deluged with offers to donate Lego bricks to his project. A dissident with a checkered past, who was arrested in 2011 in China and held for 81 days, and whose passport was confiscated by the Chinese government for four years, Weiwei knows how to protest what he believes to be large, powerful entities sticking it to the little guy.
@aiww the revolution of the brickolarians has a new martyr 😉 https://t.co/uRcdNwxErS — mzv (@mzvarul) October 25, 2015
“Lego is giving us the definition of what is ‘political’, and all the big corporations are telling us what to love or hate. That is awesome,” he posted on Instagram.
“As a powerful corporation, Lego is an influential cultural and political actor in the globalized economy with questionable values.”
”Lego’s refusal to sell its product to the artist, ” Weiwei said, “is an act of censorship and discrimination.”
“We’re here to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow” (twitter.com/LEGO_Group) In June 2015 Ai Weiwei Studio began to design artworks which would have required a large quantity of Lego bricks to produce. The works were planned for the exhibition “Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei” at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, to open in December 2015. The artworks’ concept relates to freedom of speech. The museum’s curatorial team contacted Lego to place a bulk order and received Lego’s reply via email on 12 September 2015: “We regret to inform you that it is against our corporate policy to indicate our approval of any unaffiliated activities outside the LEGO licensing program. However, we realize that artists may have an interest in using LEGO elements, or casts hereof, as an integrated part of their piece of art. In this connection, the LEGO Group would like to draw your attention to the following: The LEGO trademark cannot be used commercially in any way to promote, or name, the art work. The title of the artwork cannot incorporate the LEGO trademark. We cannot accept that the motive(s) are taken directly from our sales material/copyrighted photo material. The motive(s) cannot contain any political, religious, racist, obscene or defaming statements. It must be clear to the public that the LEGO Group has not sponsored or endorsed the art work/project. Therefore I am very sorry to let you know that we are not in a position to support the exhibition Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei by supplying the bulk order.” Ai Weiwei Studio was informed by NGV about Lego’s rejection of the bulk order. As a commercial entity, Lego produces and sells toys, movies and amusement parks attracting children across the globe. As a powerful corporation, Lego is an influential cultural and political actor in the globalized economy with questionable values. Lego’s refusal to sell its product to the artist is an act of censorship and discrimination.
Is Lego engaging in censorship, corporate bullying, or just capitalism? Let us know what you think in the comments.
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