Phone cases with a conscience feature faces of political prisoners

Artist Ai Weiwei's Lego portraits of those who've been silenced, imprisoned or exiled because of their beliefs inspire a new line of iPhone cases, with part of the proceeds going to Amnesty International.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
Leslie Katz led a team that explored the intersection of tech and culture, plus all manner of awe-inspiring science, from space to AI and archaeology. When she's not smithing words, she's probably playing online word games, tending to her garden or referring to herself in the third person.
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Leslie Katz
2 min read

Ai Weiwei holds a case inspired by his Lego portraits of prisoners of conscience.


Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has already brought his Lego portraits of international political prisoners to the site of notorious federal prison Alcatraz. Now, he's bringing them to smartphone cases.


Andualem Arage was convicted of working with an opposition party in Ethiopia, and sentenced to life in prison in 2012. (Click to enlarge.)


Gooey, a UK-based maker of mobile accessories, has teamed with the artist to create 176 phone cases -- one for each person represented in Ai Weiwei's 176 Lego portraits that fan across the floor of a crumbling prison building as part of "@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz," an exhibit of original installations on display through April.

The portraits in the installation "Trace," comprising 1.2 million bricks, depict prisoners of conscience from all corners of the globe -- figures including Nelson Mandela, Burmese pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and Tibetan singer Lolo, who was sentenced by China to six years in prison for recording an album of songs calling for Tibetan independence. The artist, a vocal critic of the Chinese government, was himself imprisoned for 81 days in 2011, and is now on "soft" detention, forbidden from traveling outside China.

Gooey makes adhesive cases for smartphones and tablets that let devices stick to smooth, glossy surfaces using surface tension. The company approached Ai Weiwei about shrinking his portraits made of 16x16-inch interlocking Lego grids to purse and pocket size.

It sees the accessories as a "new channel for the mass-activation of the political aims of 'Trace' and Ai Weiwei's work in general -- to raise awareness of the plight of prisoners of conscience and to inspire the audience to challenge acts of injustice and the political suppression of freedom of expression and speech."

It also hopes the frequency with which typical consumers interact with their mobile devices will be occasion for them to stop and connect with the human story represented on their chosen case.

Gooey's site shows all 176 cases, with images clicking out to the details behind the faces. Cases can currently be preordered for the iPhone 6 for $53 (about £23, AU$45), with cases for other iPhones possibly coming later, depending on demand.

Fifteen percent of case sales will go to Amnesty International and 15 percent to San Francisco-based For-Site Foundation, which presents art specific to place and sponsored and curated Ai Weiwei's Alcatraz exhibition.

At Alcatraz prison, Lego portraits fight for freedom

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