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After four years without travel, the artist will personally attend this exhibition at the Royal Academy in London.

Originally Ai Weiwei had to plan this show remotely, due to the fact he had been unable to leave China since 2011 when the authorities confiscated his passport and placed him under a restrictive travel ban. Virtually navigating the spaces from his studio in Beijing, Ai worked with RA curators to coordinate what will be the first major retrospective of his work in the UK.

With just eight weeks until the show was due to open, Ai announced his passport had been returned and that he planned to travel to London to finalise the details of the exhibition in person. The display chronicles his work since 1993 – the year Ai returned to China after 12 years living in New York. It was a defining moment in his career, when Ai's work began to reflect on both his Chinese cultural heritage, as well as his exposure to the Western art world.

Working in wood, porcelain, marble or jade, some pieces take Ai months to create as they pass through his lengthy experiments. Included are sculptures such as Surveillance Camera and Video Camera – both masterpieces in marble craftsmanship – as well as Straight, which was constructed out of 90 tonnes of bent and twisted steel rods that Ai collected from buildings damaged in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and then straightened by hand.

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