Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy of Arts review

Influential Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has taken over the main galleries and courtyard of London's Royal Academy of Arts in for the artist's first ever large-scale exhibition in the UK.

Never a stranger to controversy, Ai Weiwei's newest set of installations promises to provoke, inspire and inform viewers as the artist offers his brave and unique perspective on loaded themes such as human rights, freedom and censorship.

Ai Weiwei first received critical acclaim in the UK after his groundbreaking "Sunflower Seeds" installation at the Tate Modern in 2010, where the artist poured 100 million handmade porcelain replicas of sunflower seed husks into the industrial space of the Tate's Turbine Hall.

While "Sunflower Seeds" was phenomenally successful as a standalone installation, the artist's current exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts represents the first major survey of his work ever displayed in the UK, spanning more than two decades of his remarkable (and oftentimes tumultuous) career.

Ai Weiwei's bold and outspoken criticisms of the Chinese government have fueled the artist's notoriety, but they have also garnered painful backlash at times. In 2011, he was arrested without charge and detained for nearly three months before being released. Upon his release, Ai Weiwei was accused of tax evasion and fined the equivalent of $1.5 million dollars.

The artist's vocal protests have often proven to be a "thorn in the flesh" to the Chinese government, which has so heavily censored any references toAi Weiwei that even his name is conspicuously absent from search results in the Chinese version of Google.

With characteristic boldness and a deep sense of compassion, Ai Weiwei's exhibition explores a variety of provocative themes that are at once hopeful and heartbreaking.

The artist assembles and repurposes a vast array of materials--everything from glass, marble and terracotta to steel rods that were salvaged from the tragic 2008 Sichuan earthquake--to create visual statements that underscore the struggle for human freedom and dignity at the most visceral level.

For viewers looking to gain more insight into the extraordinary mind and works of Ai Weiwei, the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts is one that cannot be missed.

View our wonderful selection of Ai Weiwei prints

Photography courtesy of Trudie Moore (Flickr)